Category Archives: Games Night

23rd June 2020 (Online)

Maybe it was the really hot weather, or perhaps it was the prospect of playing something we all know and love, but people seemed in a slightly brighter mood this week.  Pine commented that every time Purple moved her head he could see the swastika on the box for Escape from Colditz behind her and he was finding it disconcerting.  After she had shuffled her seat, Purple commented that it was hers and Black’s fifteenth wedding anniversary, leading to a chorus of “Happy Anniversary” from everyone.

The Horse and Jockey
– Image by boardGOATS

From there the conversation inevitably moved on to the news that pubs will reopen on 4th July, and specifically the fantastic news that the Horse and Jockey will be one of them.  Clearly there is a long way to go before we can return to playing games there, but it has to be good news for our friends whose livelihoods depend on the place.  There was a lot of concern at the suggestion that people will have to leave their personal details in pubs and what other purposes these may be put to; this was followed by the suggestion that there might be an awful lot of visits to the pub by “Dominic Cummings”…  With that, it was 8pm and everyone had arrived, so we started with an explanation of the differences between Las Vegas Royale and our old favourite, Las Vegas.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The underlying game is much the same, in that people roll dice and choose which of six, numbered casinos to place them on.  As usual, the active player must place all the dice of one number on the casino of that number and when all dice have been placed, any ties are removed and the winnings are awarded to the owners of the remaining dice, with the largest money card going to the player with the most dice.  In the new Royale version, the casinos are arranged in a circle which is quite nice, but more importantly for us, there is no Slot Machine.  This is a shame, but in the event, we didn’t really miss it.  The new game is played with the “Biggun” from the Boulevard expansion, as standard, which suits us as we always include it when we play.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

Aside from the new artwork and layout, there is a subtle change to the setup for Las Vegas Royal.  In the original, the money cards, each with a value of $10,000 to $100,000 are distributed so that each casino has a minimum fund (dependant on the number of players).  This means some will have many winners and others only a single jackpot.  In the new version, each casino has just two cards, each with a value between $30,000 and $100,000.  We thought this might have a large impact on game play, and although it changed things, it wasn’t worse, just different.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

The biggest differences though, were the inclusion of “jetons” and the additional effects associated with some of the casinos.  The jetons are tokens that players can use to pass during the game, when their dice roll is unhelpful.  The additional actions are added to three of the casinos and usually take effect when a player places dice in that casino.  We chose to start with “Lucky Punch” on Miracle Casino (Casino 1), “Prime Time” on Kings Casino (Casino 2) and “High Five” on Marina Casino (Casino 3).

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

It is possible to add extra actions to all six casinos, but for our first play, we decided to stick to the rules and add them to three only.  One area which were we weren’t able to follow the rules in, however, was the player count:  the new version, specifies two to five players and there were ten of us.  This change is likely because the new features lengthen the game, so additionally, the number of rounds is reduced from four to three.  We usually play just three rounds, so we played with two teams of two and decided to make a decision as to how many rounds we would play at the end of the first round.  Blue and Pink had set the game up in advance and, like our first remote game back in March, Las Vegas, everyone else followed using Microsoft Teams.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime started, followed by Burgundy, who rolled five threes and placed them on the Marina Casino activating the “High Five”.  This has a token worth “$100,000” on it to be claimed when someone places their fifth die on that casino, and Burgundy duly claimed it.  Purple went for the Miracle Casino (1) and the “Lucky Punch” action at the first opportunity.  With this action, the active player takes one, two or three tokens into their hand and the next player (in this case Team Greeny-Lilac) have to guess how many tokens they have in their hand.  An incorrect guess would give Purple two jetons, $30,000 or $40,000 depending on how many tokens she was holding.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

So, Purple turned on her camera and held out her paw in such a way that nobody could see it until Black pointed out that the camera was over the other screen.  Maybe that was just enough information for Team Greeny-Lilac or maybe they were just lucky, but they successfully guessed Purple had two dice in her hand and, as a result, she won nothing.  Burgundy was the next to have a go at the “Lucky Punch”, and it was Purple’s turn to guess.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple guessed three and Burgundy’s simple reply of “Bugger” told the whole story—this was especially funny since he didn’t have a camera and we were all trusting him to be honest!  The “Lucky Punch” proved really popular: Pine was next to have a go and Pink (playing as a team with Blue) had to guess.  Although Pine was holding out his hand, Pink couldn’t see the screen from where he was sitting so just guessed three and Pine’s response was just as clear as Burgundy’s.  With three out of three failures, people began to wonder whether if we were all psychic.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was the first to be successful at the “Lucky Punch”, adding $30,000 to his $100,000 from the “High Five”.  That wasn’t the opening of the flood-gates though and Ivory’s attempt was blocked by Black and then Black’s was blocked by Lime.  Purple was eventually successful, taking $30,000 and Ivory also managed to sneak a couple of jetons,  though Pine’s attempt at palming a tree-eeple and a duck-eeple (from Christmas crackers at previous unChristmas Dinners) were spotted by Team Bluey-Pink.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Team Bluey-Pink were the first to use a jeton, followed soon after by Lime.  Egged on by everyone else and much to Ivory’s disgust, Black engaged in a battle for Cleopatra Casino (5), eventually leaving Pine to take the $80,000 with just one die.  Lime won the Kings Casino, but his “Prime Time” bonus meant he could roll two dice and place them if he wished, though unfortunately they had no impact.  The clear winner of the round was Burgundy, however, largely thanks to his $130,000 of bonuses.  Time was marching on, so the group decided that there would only be one more round.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

Normally, all the additional actions are swapped, however, there were a lot to choose from and swapping them all would have been a significant task.  The group decided to swap out “High Five” though, and after rejecting “Bad Luck” as “very evil”, the group opted for “Block It!”.  This action enables players to mess with others by placing cubes on casinos where they would be scored in the usual way, but act as an inanimate player.  Pine went first in the second round but was immediately obstructed by Team Bluey-Pink who were the first to try the “Block It!” action.  First, they moved three neutral dice into the Kings Casino (2) pushing Pine into second place.  On their next turn they start moved more neutral dice onto the Sunset Casino, and with Team Greeny-Lilac’s help, made Ivory’s life more difficult and effectively scuppered Burgundy’s plans.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine eventually won $40,000 on the “Lucky Punch”, but Black was not so lucky when Lime correctly called him holding two tokens.  Team Greeny-Lilac took $30,000, Black took $40,000, and then Purple did too.  It looked like people had worked out how to escape the jinx until Team Greeny-Lilac tried again and Pine guessed correctly.  The odds were certainly moving towards the expected two out of three though, especially as Purple and Pine picked up $30,000 each towards the end of the game and Team Bluey-Pink picked up a couple of extra jetons.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

Those extra jetons that Blue and Pink had acquired nearly proved very useful when Green and Lilac placed their fifth dice on the Marina Casino (3) leading to a tie for first place.  Unfortunately for both, despite several re-rolls, the tie remained and both pairs missed out on both first and second place ($80,000 and $90,000).  Green got his just desserts when he ended up in another tie for Miracle Casino (1), this time with the unfortunate Pine who got caught in the cross-fire.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

In the final tally, the winner was Burgundy, largely thanks to that $100,000 bonus for the “High Five” at the start.  Team Greeny-Lilac weren’t far behind though and neither were Pine and Purple who tied for third place.  Though it could all have been so different, had Burgundy not picked up that obvious windfall so early, everyone else might not have worked so hard to spoil things in the second round and he may well have picked up more money by other means.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

As usual, we had a great time with this fantastic game.  The changes to the payout distribution were neither good nor bad, just different.  The group had mixed feelings about the new additional actions, though on balance, they were positive.  We had a load of fun with the “Lucky Punch” and online it was even more fun somehow.  In our game “Prime Time” had little effect and didn’t really influence players, but was very quick to implement and may have more impact at lower player counts.  “Block It!” affected the game more, and certainly influenced the game in the second round.  “High Five” was the huge game-changer though, certainly in this game.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

The rules are not completely clear on how this should be used, saying, “When you place your fifth die … in this casino, take the token”.  It is not entirely clear whether the $100,000 is available to everyone who places five dice in the casino, or if the first person is the only one who can claim it.  Before the game, we had decided to go with the latter and Burgundy’s freaky first roll of five threes effectively ended the competition for the Marina Casino (3) in the first turn.  Had the values for the payouts been different and if Burgundy hadn’t rolled all five in one go, this might have played very differently.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

On reflection, however, there is another way to play this which might have worked better increasing competition, and may have be the designer’s intention too.  If each subsequent player to reach five dice were to take the token from the current holder it would increase competition and add a nasty edge to the game.  This could also make it a target for using the jetons which otherwise got a bit of mixed reception.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

At the end of the game everyone seemed to have too many jetons left and decided to spend them adding a lot of time to the game, mostly for little reward.  Several suggestions about how to improve it were made, including forcing players to exchange them for cash at the end of the round, and/or topping people up to a maximum of two at the start of a new rounds, or maybe giving players one or even none at the start of each round thus making any gained from the “Lucky Fist” that bit more precious.

Las Vegas Royale
– Image by boardGOATS

The combination of the extra actions, the large number of players and the effect of playing online meant the game had taken a long time, so Lime, Ivory, Green and Lilac took their leave.  Although it was late in the UK, it wasn’t in California where Mulberry joined us from her balcony at 38 °C in the mid-afternoon for a game of our old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

6 Nimmt! is such a simple game which keeps everyone involved throughout and the Board Game Arena implementation is so good, that it is often a fall-back for when nobody can be bothered to think.  Players simply choose one card simultaneously, then, starting with the lowest value card, they add them to one of the four rows.  If the card is the sixth card to be added, the player takes the five cards and the new card becomes the new first card in the row.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

As always, people complained about the cards they had, though Blue felt she was particularly hard done by this time with one, two and three in consecutive hands and almost nothing above fifty for most of the game.  Given that, she didn’t do too badly in the end.  There was no beating Pine though.  After the game, Pine left and everyone else made it their business to investigate how many games Pine had played on Board Game Arena. There were over a thousand, of which nearly a hundred had been 6 Nimmt!, winning around 30% of games against all comers!  And with that, it was time for bed.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Learning Outcome:  If voting Donald for US President, many people would prefer the Duck!

9th June 2020 (Online)

It’s been over three months since we were last officially at the Horse and Jockey, and it is clear everyone is really missing it.  When people joined the meeting from 7.30pm and everyone asked how people were doing, most people had nothing much to say.  Pine is still furloughed, Blue is back at work from time to time, as is Green; Ivory never left, while Pink and Black are still working from home.  Otherwise though, everyone is just getting used to the way things are now.  This week, the “Feature Game” was to be Noch Mal!.  This is a “roll and write” game by Inka and Markus Brand, designers of Village, Rajas of the Ganges and the award-winning EXIT: The Game series.  Although Noch Mal! was first released in 2016, it has only recently been released in English (as Encore!), although the game itself is language independent.

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

Noch Mal! is quite similar to the 2018 Kennerspiel des Jahres nominee Ganz Schön Clever (aka That’s Very Clever), where one player rolls the dice and then chooses some to use to cross off boxes on their player card, leaving the left over dice for the other player(s) to use.  The player sheet for Noch Mal! is simpler than the one in Ganz Schön Clever though, and there is less structure to the dice rolling making it more suitable for more players.  Indeed, although it is only supposed to play six, we felt it could easily play more, and this is important to us at the moment because the social aspect is the main reason for these online meetings.

Ganz Schön Clever
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of Noch Mal! is that the active person rolls the dice and then chooses two of the six dice to use.  Three of the dice are relatively normal d6 dice (numbered one to five with a “question mark” replacing the six), while the other three dice are “colour dice” with coloured crosses instead of numbers (red, green, blue, orange, yellow and black).  The player cards depict a rectangular array of square boxes, in groups of different colours.  Players choose two dice, a colour and a number and “spend” them to cross squares off on their sheet.  Thus, if they choose green and five, they must cross off exactly five green squares.  The catch is that these must be in a clump together and must include a square in the starting row (H) or one that is orthogonally adjacent to a square already crossed off.

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

Players get points for completing columns, or crossing off all the squares of one colour, with the first player to do so scoring a bonus.  The “question mark” and “black” faces are “wild” and can be used as any number or colour (respectively), but each player can only use a total of eight wilds during the game.  Points are scored for completed columns (those furthest from the central starting column score more), crossing off all of one colour, and any unused wilds.  Some of the squares also feature a star—each one of these that is not crossed off earns a two point penalty.  The game ends when one player crosses off all the squares of two colours and the player with the most points is the winner.

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone had three dice and we began by rolling to see who would go first.  Ivory won, but there were lots of roll-offs to settle tie breaks, so determining the order was in danger of taking longer than the game itself!  To keep people involved and give them a feeling of agency everyone rolled their own number dice, while Blue and Pink rolled the colours and displayed everything on one of their cameras.  For the first three rounds the active players (Ivory, Burgundy and Pink) don’t choose dice and everyone else can choose from the full six, so Pine was the first to play a “proper turn”.

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink was quick out of the traps and was first to score a column, and then taking points for a second too.  This meant he was three points up before anyone else had scored.  Worse, nobody else could score anything for the starting column (H), and only one point was available now for column G too.  Ivory had other plans though and had expanded to the right of the table and was soon picking up some of the higher scoring columns further away from the centre.  Others tried the same strategy, some with success, others less so.

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

The general feeling was a little bit like Bingo with dice with players calling out when they completed a column.  This feeling was accentuated when lots of people called “House” for a load of columns on the right, all at the same time.  Eventually players started claiming colours; inevitably, Ivory was first, and also the first to discover what a curate’s egg it was as he was then forced to pass.  It wasn’t long before someone completed their second colour and everyone then had to work out their scores.

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

It was no real surprise that Ivory top scored with what seemed like an enormous ten points, though Black ran him very close with eight.  Pink, Lime Blue and Green felt they had done well to avoid finishing with negative points and Purple would have done a lot better if she hadn’t lost sixteen points for her eight remaining stars.  It had been interesting though and now everyone felt they had a better understanding of how the game worked, it seemed a good idea to give it another try.

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Lime was the first to score points, claiming column H so fast that it seemed impossible.  Having finished with zero last time though, he was keen to get points on the board straight away.  It was then that the IT gremlins began their attack.  First Lime had problems with the camera freezing, then Ivory as well.  It seemed that the problem was somehow specific to Lime and Ivory and when one left, that seemed to sort out the problem for the other one.  When Green looked at the text chat channel, he commented that it was a very long stream of “Lime has left”, “Lime has joined”, “Ivory has left”, “Ivory has joined”, “Lime has left”…

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

Inevitably, we decided it was the French (again) trying to get their revenge for our invasion of their game of 6 Nimmt! a few weeks back—they have very long memories do the French!  Obviously, we weren’t going to let them win, so Lime and Ivory took it in turns to duck out when necessary and Blue and Pink took it in turns to let them back in, and the game carried on.  This time, everyone had a better idea of what strategies were available and players made a better job of completing columns.

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

More players completed one colour and almost everyone had a near full grid by the end.  This meant it was down to rolling low numbers and those who hadn’t used up all their “wild” tokens.  This turned out to be really quite important with Burgundy and Pink among others, running out and therefore unable to make use of turns that others could.  It was slow at the end, but eventually Black completed his second colour and everyone tallied up the scores.

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone except Ivory had improved their score, and this time everyone finished in the black.  Purple took the award for the most improved player, improving her score by twenty-three points having made an effort to clear up her stars.  As the scores came in, Pink really thought he had it with eighteen, but he’d failed to look across the table to see Blue had twenty, and with it victory.  Noch Mal! had worked really well which shows how our tastes have changed:  in the pub, we would never had played a game like this with so many, however, as Pine pointed out, playing a real game through a camera felt more like game night than playing an virtual game, so we’ll keep that in mind for future events.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

With that, Pine and Lime finally gave in to the French Gremlins and left for an early night, and eventually, Green joined them.  The others were up for something else though, and as Pink was wearing his new 6 Nimmt! socks, that seemed like a good idea.  So everyone logged into Board Game Arena for one of our favourite games.  The game needs little real introduction: players simultaneously choose a card from their hand and everyone reveals them.  Starting with the lowest, the cards are added in turn to one of the four rows—when a sixth card is added the owner instead takes the five cards and starts a new row with their card, scoring the number of bulls’ head points (or “Nimmts”) depicted on the card.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

On Board Game Arena, the player with the most points when one player’s score falls below zero is the winner.  There was the usual moaning about how bad everyone’s hand was and how badly everyone always did, but Burgundy pretty much nailed it when he said nobody is going to do well, the aim is just to do less badly than anybody else.  In that sense, the game is a bit like escaping a bear, you don’t need to run fast, just faster than everyone else.  This time, Pine started off as the slowest runner being the first to pick up, but was soon followed but Black, Purple and then Burgundy.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

For a long time, it looked like it was going to be a “two bull race” between Blue and Pink, but six is a critical number in 6 Nimmt!, so with six players strange things can happen with players becoming synchronised and picking up lots of points on multiple turns.  It looked like it was going that way for Blue, but she managed to stem the flow and was tied for second with Pine for quite a while before he started picking up cards again.  It looked like Pink’s Lucky 6 Nimmt! Socks were working their magic, but when Black (who had been looking like bear-fodder for the whole game) ended the game, Pink had just picked up, leaving Blue one point ahead.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

There was still time for one more quick game, and with six, the perfect quick game (and one that is available on Board Game Arena), is For Sale.  This is an old game that we dug out about six months ago, before all the current strife, and it got a couple of outings.  Since all games have been online, it is one of the games we can still play, and, as a result, it’s had several outings recently.  It is a game of two halves, first players buy property cards, then they sell them, and the player who makes the most money is the winner.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

The properties are numbered one to thirty, with the number indicating the relative value.  Buying properties is through auction, with players increasing the bid or passing and taking the lowest value property available and paying half of their bid for the privilege.  The last player then takes the highest value property, but pays their full bid.  In the second part of the game, cheques are revealed and players choose a card to play, with the cheques assigned according to the value of the property played.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus the game consists of two auctions: a variant of an all-pay auction and a sealed bid auction.  In the first auction, a key tactic is predicting what other players will bid so passing can be timed in such a way as to get the best value for money.  Whereas previously, most players increased the bid by the minimum increment, this time it was clear that people were playing a little more tactically, with higher starting bids and increments of $2,000 that pushed other players into paying more.

For Sale on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Black’s and Purple’s strategies were different however:  Black spent a total of just $2,000 on properties, mostly just passing and taking the property offered, and Purple spent only $3,000.  In contrast, Blue spent $13,000 and Pine spent $12,000, i.e. nearly all of their starting $14,000.  There is strategy in the second part of the game too though, and getting the timing right for selling each property is key.  For example, although Blue’s profits of $37,000 were larger than Black’s, his rate of return of $21,000 for just $2,000 outlay was better, matched only by Purple’s return of $32,000 for her $3,000 investment.

For Sale on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

That superb return was enough to give Purple third place.  It is not all about rate of return though:  it is the player who makes best use of all their funds that wins.  In this case, this meant we had a tie for first place between Pine and Burgundy, both finishing with a massive $59,000.  The tie break is the player with the most cash at the end, which just gave it to Burgundy who had achieved his $55,000 from properties bought for $10,000.  And with that, it was time for bed.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  A lot of fun can be had with a handful of dice and a few sheets of paper.

26th May 2020 (Online)

As people signed in, the evening began with a lot of comments about visits to Durham and driving to “Barney’s Castle” to in lieu of eye-testing and, after his unexpected “French connection” last time, Lime said he’d sent a coachload of Gallic gamers to visit Pink and Blue.  By 8pm, everyone had joined the Microsoft Teams meeting and had signed into the online platform, Board Game Arena ready to start our first game.  This was to be the “Feature Game“, Saboteur.  The game is fairly simple:  players have a hand of four cards and take it in turns to play one.  The aim of the game depends on which side they are on:  the Dwarves, or the Saboteurs.

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

The Dwarves are digging a tunnel trying to find the gold buried in them there hills, while the Saboteurs are trying to stop them.  There are a limited number of cards in the deck, and when the cards run out, time us up—if the Dwarves have not reached the gold, the Saboteurs win.  In addition to playing tunnel cards, players have the ability to delay obstruct each other’s plans by breaking their tools.  These can be repaired, but players only want to repair tools belonging to members of their own team, and here’s the catch:  nobody knows who is a Saboteur, leading to distrust and chaos.

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

The game began with Pink saying he didn’t know how to play and extending the tunnel in a strange direction (very Saboteur-like behaviour).  Green and Mulberry played map cards and said all they could see was coal – this was eventually confirmed by Blue who said the top card was the gold.  Although that suggested all three were likely to be Good Dwarves, it quickly became apparent that Mulberry was in fact an evil Saboteur, casting doubt on the other two as well.  When Burgundy and Purple both started to exhibit treacherous behaviour it was clear they couldn’t all be Saboteurs.

Saboteur on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Unusually, it turned out that Green was innocent, a point he accentuated with hurt dignity.  When Mulberry was questioned about why she hadn’t lied about the whereabouts of the gold when she had the chance, she replied, “You don’t lie about facts that are verifiable…”:  a comment that gave everyone else food for thought.  Despite a very good effort from Mulberry, Burgundy and Purple, It wasn’t long before Lime set up Pink to claim the gold.

Saboteur on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

When we play this in real life, we usually play single rounds and not worry too much about sharing out gold and having an “overall” winner.  Playing through Board Game Arena though, we didn’t really have much option and were suckered into a three round game with gold cards handed out to the winning team each time.  Ivory started the next round and Pine was the first to use a map to look for the treasure with Green and Black following soon after.

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime started off discarding a card which looked a trifle suspicious, and his first real play didn’t allay everyone’s concerns.  Their worst fears were confirmed when he played a rock-fall card on a key cross-roads in the centre of the map announcing his affiliation with Team Saboteur.  There was a little confusion over the difference between “Gold” and “Coal” which sounded very similar over the sound channel, though some of the confusion may have been deliberate, especially as Green and Black (who’d had all the map cards), joined the wicked Saboteurs.

Saboteur on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Inevitably, Burgundy and Pine jumped on Lime and smashed his mining lamp and trolley, while Purple repaired the damage and Mulberry extended the tunnel, but only found coal for her efforts.  Then there was a race between the Evil Saboteurs and the Good Dwarves, with Black and Green trying to repair Lime’s broken tools as fast as everyone else was breaking them.  In between, progress on the tunnel was slow, but eventually Blue struck gold, and it was another victory to the Dwarves.

Saboteur on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

The third round didn’t feel as close as the first two.  Burgundy, Blue and Mulberry were the  Saboteurs and really spent too much effort convincing everyone they weren’t evil and, as a result, took too long to actually do any sabotage.  The problem wasn’t helped by Mulberry breaking Burgundy’s pick-axe and the fact that Blue didn’t want to reveal her allegiance by fixing it for him.  By the time they’d sorted themselves out, it was way too late; the Dwarves had made a beeline for the gold and Pine had completed the tunnel with the deck barely depleted.

Saboteur on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

With that, it was only the final reckoning to work through.  Anyone who had been an unsuccessful Saboteur was out of the running, leaving Ivory, Pine and Pink in the podium positions.  At the end of each round, three gold cards were drawn at random with a face value between one and three.  These were allocated to players on the winning side with the last two players to receiving two cards and everyone else getting one card with the value decreasing in reverse player order.  Therefore, there wasn’t much to choose between the top three:  Pink just edged it, with seven gold, one more than Ivory and Pine who tied for second with Lime and Blue the best of the rest, finishing with five apiece.  With that, the game degenerated into a chorus of “Gold” by Spandau Ballet, “Ahhhhh…!”

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

Although some online implementations considerably reduce the upkeep in games, unquestionably, playing online is considerably more taxing than playing in real life.  Somehow, the additional effort needed to keep track of what’s going on and follow the verbal chatter and the written banter on the two written chat threads.  So, although Saboteur had barely taken an hour and there was plenty of time for more games, with laziness the order of the day, 6 Nimmt! was the popular choice.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

6 Nimmt! is one of the group’s favourite games, mainly because of the fine line it walks between control and total chaos.  Each player has a hand of cards and, simultaneously, everyone chooses one to play.  Starting with the card with the lowest face value, in turn, the cards are added to one of the four rows: the row ending with the highest card that is lower than the fave value of the card played.  When the card to be added to a row would be the sixth, instead, the player takes the five cards and the card becomes the new first card in the row.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The number of bull’s heads or “nimmts” depicted on the cards becomes the players score, and the player with the lowest score is the winner.  In the Board Game Arena implementation, everyone starts with sixty-six points and everyone keeps playing until someone’s score falls below zero.  The more players, the more mad the game becomes, so with ten, it was guaranteed to be disorganised chaos.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

This time, Ivory was the first to pick up cards, but Black and Burgundy soon started the race to the bottom in earnest, picking up cards almost every turn.  It wasn’t long before Lime joined the chase though, and before long nobody was unaffected.  Blue, Pine and Pink managed to avoid too many expensive pick ups and as Burgundy triggered the end of the game, it was a three horse race.  Pine managed to duck and dive best at the end of the game and won by a nose.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from
boardgamearena.com

Sadly, Green had been struggling with his internet connection which kept dropping out, so he ducked out leaving everyone else to start another game.  This time it was Lime’s turn to keep picking up, ending with thirty-nine cards and zero points.  It was quite close at the top though, with seven players within a range of twelve points, and a three-way tie for first, between Pink, Ivory and remarkably Purple, who can usually be relied on to collect cards with gay abandon.  By this time, people were tiring, but once Mulberry, Ivory and Lime had said goodnight, there were six—just enough for a quick game of For Sale.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

For Sale is a very clever little auction game that plays really well with six players.  Each player starts with $14,000, which they use to bid for properties numbered one to thirty.  The auction is unusual though, in that players must increase the bid, or pass and and take the lowest value property available, paying half their stake.  Bidding continues until the winner takes the most valuable property in the batch.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

Once all the properties have been sold, players then sell off their properties.  In this phase of the game, six cheques are revealed and players simultaneously choose a property.  The properties are ranked, with the most valuable taking the largest cheques.  The winner is the player who has made the most of their starting capital, turning it into the largest total cheques.

For Sale on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

There was considerable amusement when Pink (who normally resides in Durham) took “Barney Castle”;  inevitably, he was asked whether he needed his eye-sight testing…  Otherwise, the game was a fairly uneventful, tense affair which ended with just $5,000 separating five of the players.  Burgundy was the winner though, with $47,000, $1,000 more than Pine who had $1,000 more than Blue.  The game was so quick, and is one where players sometimes need to “get their eye in”, to be able to value properties.  So, everyone was happy to give it a second try.

For Sale on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Somehow Burgundy got lost between the two games though, ended up spectating someone else’s game.  This time they weren’t French though and he was only watching; the problem was spotted quite quickly too, so could be rectified quite easily.  It didn’t put Burgundy off his game, and he finished with $51,000.  Although it wasn’t quite as close as the first game, the top three were the same, but this time it was Blue who finished $1,000 behind Burgundy.  And with that, everyone had had enough.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Not all Dwarves work for Snow White…

12th May 2020 (Online)

Having spent the last few meetings playing online using Tabletop Simulator shared through Microsoft Teams, this time we decided to do something a little different.  One of the group’s most popular games is 6 Nimmt!, which also plays lots of people.  It has unavoidable hidden information, but is available through the online platform, Board Game Arena.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

On our first online game night, a small group had had a difficult time playing Port Royal on Yucata.  Some of the group had also played rather challenging games of Snowdonia and San Juan, and, as a result, had moved to Board Game Arena for three more recent, epic games of Keyflower.  The graphics and playing environment on Board Game Arena are more up to date than those for Yucata, but like most other platforms, the servers have been struggling at peak  times with the load caused by the recent influx of new online gamers.  The folks at Board Game Arena have done a lot of work on that in the last couple of weeks though, and the performance has improved significantly as a result.  So much so, that we felt reasonably confident it would be stable enough to be the focus of games night.

Board Game Arena Logo
– Image by boardgamearena
on twitter.com

So, this week, the “Feature Game” was to be 6 Nimmt! played on Board Game Arena.  This is a game that everyone knows well, though there are a couple of minor tweaks to the rules.  The idea is that everyone starts with a hand of cards, ten on Board Game Arena (we usually play with the hand size that is dependent on the number of players).  Simultaneously, everyone chooses a card, and then, starting with the lowest numbered card, these are added to the four rows in the display.  Each card is added to the row that ends with the card with the highest number that is lower than the card played.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Placing the sixth card in the row causes the active player to take all the cards in the row, replacing them with their played card.  The clever part is that the score is the not the face value of the cards, but the number of “bull’s heads” shown on the cards.  The aim of the game is to finish with the lowest score.  When the group usually play, we split the deck into two halves and play just two rounds.  On Board Game Arena, however, everyone starts with sixty-six points and the game end is triggered when someone’s score falls to zero.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

From 7pm, players began logging onto Board Game Arena and joined the MS Teams meeting.  Lime was one of the first and his chat with Blue and Pink was interrupted by a phone call from one of Blue’s relatives trying to source a set of drain rods.  Blue and Pink were quite convinced they didn’t have any, but that didn’t stop Pink having to spend the next hour hunting for some without success (so Lime kindly offered to lend his if required).  While Pink rummaged in the garage, everyone else joined the meeting and chatted.  Mulberry unfortunately wasn’t able to join us, but she was replaced by Ivory on his first online meeting.  It was great to “see” him again after so long, and good to hear that Mrs. Ivory, Little Ivory and Littler Ivory were all doing well and might be interested in OKIDO.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Pink finished ferreting and returned to the chair kept warm by his panda and everyone settled down to play.  The Board Game Arena implementation worked nicely and everyone was able to chat in the background using MS Teams, but also through the game’s “chat” channel.  There was the usual moaning about the quality of cards and comments about how badly things were going:  it was almost like playing together in the pub, though not quite.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Green and Purple managed to avoid picking up any cards for the first round or two, but it wasn’t long before their natural collecting mania began.  The disease spread and soon Pine, Ivory and Black were picking up lots of cards too.  It wasn’t long before Lime triggered the end of the game, and Burgundy managed to avoid picking up anything in the final round to win, ten points clear of the rest of the field.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

There is a lot of luck in the game, especially with so many players, but everyone was happy to play again and it is very easy to engage in a re-match, or so we all thought.  It wasn’t until the second game had started that we realised we’d “lost” Lime somewhere along the way.  He seemed to be playing a game, but then it dawned on him, that he’d somehow got himself involved in somebody else’s game by mistake.  He was very embarrassed and was keen to extricate himself, but Blue worked out where he’d gone and shared the link.  So, to the complete mystification of the four French gamers involved, the Brits all joined their game as excitable spectators.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone boisterously cheered on our British Representative, to the blissful ignorance of the French and huge embarrassment of poor Lime.  Meanwhile, Black worked out how to abandon the incomplete game and Blue started a new one which everyone joined while still following Lime’s progress against the French.  Lime played really well and was in the lead for much of the game, but sadly, one of the French finished strongly and just beat him.  Still, we all felt he’d done an excellent job keeping the British end up, and he finished a very creditable second (especially since he was somehow also playing the group’s game and working!).

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

After all that excitement, our game was something of an anticlimax.  Nobody was really paying much attention for the first part as they were distracted by Lime’s stellar performance.  But when everyone focussed on the game again, Pine, Blue, Ivory and Green were fighting it out to at the top while Pink was doing his best to end the game nice and quickly.  There were the usual smutty comments (Green: “Ivory’s got a big one there…!”) and other banter (Pine: “I had the lead for all of two seconds…!”), but eventually, Pink put everyone out of their misery, somehow leaving Blue just ahead of Pine.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS
from boardgamearena.com

Nobody was desperate for an early night, so everyone chose the rematch option again, and this time, everyone ended up in the same game.  It started quite close, but Black soon found the cards irresistible and quickly amassed an unassailable pile of brightly coloured cards.  At the other end, Pink went from “zero” to “hero”, going from last place to first place, with Pine and Lime tying for second place.  Nobody seemed keen to play another round and the evening degenerated into chatter.  Pink shared how to customise backgrounds on MS Teams including a selection he had downloaded from the BBC, with one from Blake’s 7 and another from Multi-coloured Swap Shop.

The Goodies Album Cover
– Image from youtube.com

This led to a discussion as to which was better: Swap Shop or ITV‘s offering, TISWAS.  From there, Pine shared some of his album collection with a quick blast of The Goodies’ Funky Gibbon and everyone started sharing weird things on YouTube including sheep playing on roundabouts; a fluffy sheep with no facial features, and the world’s biggest dogs. Pine offered Pink a copy of the soundtrack to The Sound of Music on orange vinyl, a generous offer that was politely declined.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

With Lime, Ivory and Green gone, and everyone else clearly not ready for bed yet, but running out of chat, someone suggested another quick game.  Once Blue’s maths had been corrected several times (ruling out all the five-player games), the group started a game of For Sale.  This is a simple auction game of two halves.  First, there is the property sale, where players take it in turn to bid for a building or pass and take the least valuable available.  Then, players choose which properties to sell when the “buyers” reveal their offers (cheques).

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part of this game is that the property cards are numbered (one to thirty), so they have a relative value with those numbered close to thirty more valuable than those around one.  Everyone starts with $14,000 and bids are in $1,000 increments, but anyone passing takes the lowest value property available, but takes a rebate equal to half the value of the bid (rounded down).  This adds an interesting level of decision making towards the end of each bidding round.  In the second phase, cheques are revealed with values between zero (void) and $15,000.  The player with the highest value of cheques and any left over money once all properties have been bought and sold, is the winner.

For Sale
– Image by boardGOATS

Board Game Arena have a very nice implementation of For Sale, faithfully reproducing the original, quirky card art.  There were a lot of controversially high bids, not least from Burgundy who paid $9,000 for the space station, the highest value property.  It worked though, as Burgundy just pipped Pine to win by a mere $1,000, in what was a very tight game.  It is a game where valuing property is key, both for buying and selling, and as it plays quickly, the group decided to give it a second try.

For Sale on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

This time, aside from Pink propping up the table again, everyone who had done well, did badly, and everyone who had done badly did well.  So, Blue, Black and Pink were at the top this time, with Blue pushing Black into second place by $5,000.  With that, Pine left the others to decide what long and drawn-out game they were going to play over the next fortnight, and everyone else eventually settled on Tokaido and set up the table to start the next day.

Tokaido on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Learning Outcome:  6 Nimmt! est imprévisible dans toutes les langues.

28th April 2020 (Online)

People started to arrive online from about 7pm with Mulberry briefly joining the party to say that she was going to have to work and sadly couldn’t join in the game.  It wasn’t long before everyone was once again sharing their stuffed toys, including Burgundy who’s new friend “Bunny” was watching over him from on high.  While Blue and Burgundy set up the game, Lime proudly showed off his new haircut that Mrs. Lime had done for him, only for someone to comment that it made him look like a bit like Tin Tin

Bunny
– Image by Burgundy

The “Feature Game” was to be Tsuro, a very simple game of tile laying.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player placed a tile in the space next to their stone and moves their stone along the path.  The last player left on the board is the winner.  The game plays lots of people, so was thought to be ideally suited to these online game sessions, but unfortunately, has hidden information in that each player has a secret hand of tiles that they play from.  In order to accommodate this playing online (using Tabletop Simulator to visualise, shared through Microsoft Teams), we simply displayed two tiles and on their turn each player picked one.

Tsuro
– Image by boardGOATS

This reduces the amount of planning possible, making the game less strategic, more tactical and, potentially, more random.  So to compensate a little and make it fairer, when any tiles with four-fold symmetry were drawn, they were put to one side as an extra option, a third tile, available until someone picked it.  As there were a lot of players, we also decided to use the slightly larger board from Tsuro of the Seas, and modify the pieces to suit our purposes.  Aside from this, the rules were the same as the original:  players can rotate the pieces (or ask someone to do it for them), but they must place them in the space next to their piece.

Tsuro
– Image by boardGOATS

Once a tile has been placed on the board, all stones must be moved along any paths extended, and any that collide or go off the board will be eliminated.  Burgundy started in the bottom left corner followed by Black, Purple and Lime, who was joined in the early stages by Little Lime who was keen to help.  Pine with his special friend, Beige assisting, followed by Pink, Blue and Green with Lilac and his “pet” sloth in support.  Everyone was fairly well spaced out around the edge of the board, so the game began quite slowly.  That was OK though as everyone had to get a feel for the graphics and what they were doing.

Tsuro on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

As the game progressed, people started to get entangled with each other.  The first to come a cropper was Black with Pink not too far behind.  Burgundy and Blue got stuck and went off together followed by Green who ran out options and then ran out of road.  When Lime was eventually forced off the board by a lack of space, there were just two left.  As Purple had to move into the space around Pine (playing on behalf of Beige), giving him the opportunity to push her off the board and claim the first victory for his little Gremlin.

Tsuro on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

That had gone quite well and hadn’t taken very long, so as setting up has some overhead, we decided it would be quickest to just play it again.  Blue and Burgundy re-stacked all the tiles and everyone chose their start positions.  For some reason, this time Green ended up surrounded by lots of empty space while everyone else was bunched together.  Green quickly put up a barrier and then went off to play with Lilac to play together alone in the corner, leaving everyone else to fight for space.

Tsuro on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Pine commented that Blue hadn’t moved far, but when she commented that she’d just been round in a circle, Pine objected inciting Pink to call him a “Boardgame Pedant”.  Pine took this mantle with pride and said he might add it to his CV as it already said he was a “Bird-watching Pedant”.  Blue queried this with “Bird-watching Pheasant?” and Pink upped the ante with “Bird-watching Peasant?”  Pine concurred, “Yeah, that too…”

Tsuro on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

As the game plodded on, Pink was the first to go off, soon followed by Lime and Black.  Then there was a bit of a hiatus though as players got tangled up.  Pine was the first who kindly eschewed the opportunity to expel Blue from the game (or maybe he had no choice); and then Blue returned the favour (also with no other option).  Somehow, the paths kept getting entwined bring everyone to the same place, while Pine played with himself in the top corner, ominously.

Tsuro on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS

It was during this second game that the technology started to struggle a little and Teams kept freezing as the load on the network began to exceed the capacity of the village carrier pigeon.  The game just about kept moving though, with Pink, bored having been the first to leave the game, started intimidating Blue with his large Panda.  Blue and Pine were next off, thanks to Purple, who had to choose who was going to stay in the game with her.  In the end, her choice of Burgundy proved to be unfortunate as he ruthlessly dispatched her on his next turn.  It didn’t make much difference though, and Green with lots of space and no competition was the winner.  Although his second tile had been crucial to his success, it was really the unintentional assistance from Pine when he played a convenient blocking tile in E5 that clinched it.

Tsuro on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

With that over, there was a little bit of chit chat about other game options that would work online:  Finstere Flure was an option on the Simulator, but 6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena was discussed, as was Take it Easy! with pieces delivered by Blue and Pink.  That didn’t last long though as the evening degenerated into comparing soft toys again (“Is that Kingston Bagpuss?!?!”) accompanied by renditions of songs by The Eagles.  As Green, Lilac and Pine melted away, Blue, Pink, Purple, Black and Burgundy played a few turns to get to the end of Spring in their Keyflower rematch.  But that’s another story…

Keyflower on boardgamearena.com
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Learning Outcome:  With all this “working from home”, the Stanford Carrier Pigeon needs a good feed.

14th April 2020 (Online)

Social contact is really important for mental health and board games are a great medium for that.  Unfortunately, physical proximity isn’t an option at the moment, so we’ve moved our games nights online.  Despite the limitations experienced last time, the overwhelming response from the group was that we should persist with online meetings.  With this in mind, and the recent special offer for Tabletop Simulator on the Steam platform, we’d had a couple of trial runs to see if that would work for the group.  Tabletop Simulator is a “sandbox” environment, which provides an electronic rendering of the game and tools to move things around.

Tabletop Simulator Splash Screen
– Image from steampowered.com

The strength of Tabletop Simulator, but also its weakness, is that people have to do everything themselves.  Everything.  This is good because it means the game can be played according to any rules people want, however, it also means there is a substantial overhead, which is just that bit too much for players not used to computer gaming.  Additional hurdles included installing software (a problem on some work laptops) and the intricacies of actually getting it running which required an hour or so tutorial to get going.  Unfortunately, these were just too large for us, especially for a group meeting only once a fortnight.

Chess on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Last time, we had played a simple physical game that we knew well, Las Vegas using cameras.  Seeing the “table” had been difficult though, limited by the resolution of the cameras and lighting.  So to improve things and get others involved, we decided to go with a compromise:  some people would run the game on Tabletop Simulator (providing a better visual experience), but the game would then be “streamed” to the group through Microsoft Teams, using the technology everyone was already familiar with.  This time, we were more ambitious: the “Feature Game“, Camel Up has more moving parts and lots of people hadn’t played it before.  It still fits the two key requirements, however, lots of people can play (especially with the Supercup expansion), and it has minimal “hidden information”, so it would still work with a couple of minor tweaks.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Camel Up is a simple enough family game, so teaching, even online, wasn’t too difficult.  It is a race game, where people are betting on racing camels and the player with the most money at the end of the race is the winner.  On their turn players have four options.  Firstly, they can roll dice to move a camel.  In the physical game, this is done with a special pyramid dice shaker that holds a die for each of the five camels and spits them out one at a time.  We found using the online rendering of this very difficult, and wanted to involve the players more, so we used the real shaker to deliver dictate the number and players rolled their own dice at home to see how far they moved.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Alternatively, players could place a tile on the track which would earn them money whenever anything landed on it and move those camels forwards or backwards one space (depending which way up the tile had been placed).  The other two options involved betting:  players could bet on the winner of the leg (i.e. after all the dice had been rolled once) or the eventual winner or loser of the overall race.  A simple roll and move would not make betting very interesting, but in Camel Up, when a camel lands on the same space as another camel, it is placed on top of the other piece.  Then, if the lower camel moves before the top one does, it gets a free ride.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Betting on the winner of a leg was easy to implement—each player had a space on the simulator and betting tiles (and pyramid tiles showing players had rolled dice) were moved to that area.  Betting on the eventual winner/loser was more difficult.  In the physical game, players have five cards which they play onto the winner or loser pile.  At the end of the game, these are evaluated with the first player to bet correctly getting the most money, continuing on a sliding scale, with those who bet incorrectly losing their stake.  Obviously, this wasn’t going to work for us, so instead, one person made a note of who placed bets and people kept track of their own choices (as well as their money), and we just tallied up at the end.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue, Pink, and Mulberry started setting up from around 7pm.  We used the expanded board from the expansion to make the race a little longer, but decided that any of the other modules would just make it too complicated this time.  This was a very hard decision, because the game can become very random with lots of players and the expansions do a lot to mitigate that.  We had already increased the complexity considerably compared with last time, and that would have been a step too far this time.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

As people joined the “meeting”, people chatted, mostly about nothing, largely because not a lot had happened for most people.  Blue commented on the lovely large rainbow image in the window at Lime’s house (drawn by Little Lime), and Pine commented on how nice it was to be home now his caring duties were over.  Green was the last to join the party, and he immediately asked when Pine was going to get back which led to much hilarity as the previous conversation was reprised.  The procession of soft toys reappeared:  Mulberry showed off her Pony, apparently called Macaroni (after Yankee Doodle), and Pine introduced us to his Gremlin, who apparently wants to join us at The Jockey when it re-opens and would like to be known as “Beige”.

Beige
– Image by Beige’s “Wrangler”

Having already set the game up for eight, Green and Lilac decided to play as a team, especially as they were still to eat their supper.  Blue was about half way through the rules explanation, when, much to everyone’s delight, Burgundy arrived.  He didn’t have a microphone, though he could hear everything people said.  This created a weird juxtaposition of speaking and reading replies, which occasionally became typing (especially for Blue) when confusion set in.  Playing would have been quite difficult as well as needing more set up, but it was lovely to have Burgundy back as we’d all missed him last time, and people couldn’t resist chatting on the text channel in the background.  We will definitely sort out a microphone for him for next time though.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

From there on, it was disorganised chaos mediated by camels.  Pine decided to share his packet of Tangy Cheese Doritos with everyone, and the disembodied crunching and rustling was quite something.  He blamed it on Beige, but no-one was fooled.  This was followed by someone (possibly Black) making a strange bonging noise that to Pink sounded like a bell from a traditional, mechanical signal box.  He does have a bit of a thing about trains though.  Meanwhile, on the chat, there were discussions about shopping and Pine’s burping camel impersonations.  Clearly the Doritos were working their magic.

– From Peter Jordan on youtube.com

The game was something of a side-show to all this “excitement”.  In the first round, aside from a couple of people placing oasis/mirage tiles, everyone just moved camels.  Having seen how the race worked though, the betting really got going on the second round.  The tech, though not perfect, worked well enough, thanks largely to Mulberry’s efficiency.  And although the game wasn’t a “meaty”, “manly” game, being together doing something a little different was the most important thing.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

The betting on the end game really told the story of the race.  Mulberry was the first to bet on a win, quickly followed by Pine, Black, Purple, Pink and Blue, with everyone gambling on the green or white camel making it over the line first.  Pine was the first to have another shot, but still didn’t get it right.  Betting on the loser, on the other hand, was started early by Lime and quickly followed by Pink, Black, Blue and Mulberry all of whom bet on the yellow camel to stay at the back of the pack.  That camel seemed to have three legs, or maybe a pulling rider, or perhaps it had eaten too many of Green’s sausages.  Whatever, it was definitely not a contender, and everyone agreed with Purple who commented that it should retire to a camel sanctuary.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

The front of the race was much tighter, and as the probability field gradually whittled down the likely order of finishers as it became clear that the game was coming to an end.  The order of movement was all important and players jumped in with their final bets on who would win the race, but the final leg.  Lime was the first to bet on the eventual winner, giving him eight Egyptian pounds, followed by Blue, and Pine with diminishing returns.  Green realised that betting on the winner of the leg was more lucrative by this point than betting on the end of the race, and Pink followed suit, leaving Mulberry to finish the race.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

A quick run-down of the final finances showed that Pink was a single pound ahead of Green who who posted an initial, competitive total winnings of twenty Egyptian pounds.  Lime, the first to successfully predict both the overall winner and loser finished some way ahead though, with takings of twenty-eight pounds.  Pine excused his particularly poor showing by saying he thought camel racing was cruel.  From there, the evening mostly descended into verbal and text chatter as people discovered and shared emojis (Pine was the first to find camels, but only in camel colour) and stickers, and then soft toys… again.

Pikachu
– Image by Mulberry

Mulberry suggested that when The Jockey re-opens we should have a “BYOB” party and “Bring Your Own Buddy”.  Burgundy apparently misheard and there was more hilarity when the sad message appeared on the chat, “no bunny”.  Green saw Mulberry’s Pikachu and said Pokemon Go was a problem in the current climate.  That’s not the case for Mulberry apparently, who commented that she has a “Pokey-stop” outside her house.  For those who were not familiar with the game Pokemon Go, that just sounded very smutty.  Mulberry shared a “Let Me Google That For You” link, but it didn’t seem to help, and things only got worse when she tried to explained what she did with her “Pokey-balls”…

Yucata.de
– Image from yucata.de

Time was getting on, and meeting on line is surprisingly tiring so eventually, people sadly departed, leaving Pink, Blue, Black and Purple to continue the seemingly eternal game of Snowdonia they had started two weeks earlier, on Yucata.de.  Snowdonia is a worker placement game that we’ve played quite a bit as a group, where players are building the rack-railway up the famous mountain.  The basic idea is that each player has two workers and they take it in turns to place these on one of the seven options:  gather resources; remove rubble; convert resources; lay track; build part of a station; pick up a contract card, and move their surveyor.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Each of these actions have a different number of available spaces, so for example, only three workers can lay track in any given round.  During the game, the weather changes, increasing and decreasing the work-rate so that players can build that track faster, or slower, or if it is foggy, not at all.  Contract cards give players points for successfully completing certain tasks, but can also be used to give an enhanced action instead.  The game ends when all the track has been built to the summit, Yr Wyddfa.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

This game was started after the last games night, so it was only fitting that is should be finished on a games night too.  It had started quite slowly – Yucata is quite different to Tabletop Simulator because it is much less flexible, but does ensure players follow the rules and can play turns for them when they have no decision to make.  This can help speed things along, but can also be confusing at times when the game state changes more than expected between turns.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Playing a strategy game over such a long time period proved difficult for those not used to it.  This is mainly because players lost the thread of the “narrative”, and ended up playing tactically for the short term rather than following a long-term plan.  Unsurprisingly, Black, who plays quite a lot of games asynchronously on Yucata, struggled least with this.  He was also must familiar with the environment and got off to a flying start.  Blue prioritised getting a train, but discovered that it didn’t do quite what she had in mind when she tried to use it a day or two later.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Pink was the first to move his surveyor, but then completely forgot about it.  He only realised it had been passed by everyone else’s about half-way up the mountain in the final round, by which time it was too late to do anything about it and the others were all at the summit.  Blue had been horribly inefficient in places due to losing the thread of the game and additionally couldn’t quite build the track she needed to fulfil her most lucrative contract.  According to Black, Purple was “playing online like she plays in real life”, but she was definitely doing something right as she put a spurt on at the end laying track.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Black started fastest, took the lead and then stayed there, but contracts can be a big game changer in Snowdonia.  This time though, Black completed two contracts adding a total of forty-six points to his twenty-one for getting his surveyor to the top of the mountain and forty-five points collected for building during the game.  The total made him a run-away winner with a total of a hundred and twenty-one, miles ahead of Purple who sneaked into second place a couple of points in front of Blue.  And with that it was time for the long walk to bed.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Learning Outcome:  A simulator can still be used even when most people don’t have access.

31st March 2020 (Online)

It is at times like this that we need social contact more than ever, and board games are a great medium for that, a fact recognised by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the British government.  With everyone confined to barracks for the foreseeable, we felt it was important to give online meetings a go.  There are several online gaming alternatives, but they all either cost or are horribly slow thanks to the fact that everyone else is trying to do the same.  For this reason, we decided to try to play a real game using the medium of Microsoft Teams with a camera pointed at the board and everyone else giving instructions.

Setting up for online gaming
– Image by boardGOATS

Our game of choice, and therefore our “Feature Game” for the day, was Las  Vegas. This was because everyone knows it (minimising explanations), lots of people can play (this was intended to be a social event, so that meant lots of people could be involved); it has no hidden information (a necessity for this sort of thing).  Blue and Pink began setting up at about 6pm, after the long walk home from work. They used two laptops: one was perched on some place mats and a pile of sturdy game boxes (specifically Tapestry, In the Hall of the Mountain King and Teotihuacan) with the reverse camera pointing at the table and the game, the second laptop was then used to see what everyone else could see.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Black and Purple (in Abingdon), were the first guinea pigs and struggled to get the link to work. Eventually, with some discussion over the phone and the inevitable microphones and speakers on/off issues, they were successful. While Pink popped out to fetch fish and chips from Darren Pryde and his itinerant chip van (which were truly excellent), Mullberry (in Wantage) became the next guinea pig and signed in with little difficulty.  After Blue sent out the link to everyone else at 7.30pm, there was a steady precession of gamers joining the party.  There were a few things we learnt from this first experience:

  • As the sun set, the natural light from the window faded and the camera really struggled—lighting really is critical.
  • MS Teams worked OK with people joining through a link via a web browser, but it is important that the “game camera” has an active microphone. If it does not, Teams decides it is not active and it disappears for anyone viewing on a browser.
  • MS Teams thinks that feeds where the image changes a lot are the most active and therefore the most important to show to people using a browser; turning off cameras when not active can help.
  • During setup, it helps to have something really obvious for people to focus on.
  • Maybe it’s the stress of the current climate, but there are an alarming number of soft toys in close proximity of people’s web cameras, most of which seemed to be pandas.

By about ten minutes to eight, most people had “arrived” and everyone was chatting about their new normal and sharing what they were drinking and stories of shopping—for a moment, it was almost like we were at The Jockey. A couple of minutes before the scheduled start, Green the last to join, signed in.  As Blue began dealing out the cards, Green’s opening comment was that it didn’t feel like a games night because we hadn’t spent half an hour chatting! That produced much hilarity, and more chit-chat, before we eventually started.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Las Vegas is a very simple game, which is, of course, why we picked it.  Players have a handful of dice and take it in turns to roll them and then place all the dice of one number on the casino of their choice. When nobody has any dice left, the player with the most dice in each cassino wins the jackpot.  There are a couple of clever twists that make this a really great game though. Firstly, the prize fund for each casino is dealt out in money cards.  Some cards are as high as $100,000, while others are only $10,000—the winner takes the largest denomination for that casino, the jackpot, leaving the player in second place to take the second largest, and so on.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Secondly, and perhaps most cleverly, all ties, cancel each other out.  This is absolutely key to the game: the vagaries of dice mean that a well-positioned player could roll one die and end up with nothing, and much hilarity follows. We also add the Slot Machine from the Boulevard expansion, which works in a slightly different way with dice of each number being added a maximum of once.  We also use the “Biggun” from the expansion, so each player has on large die that counts as two.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry began. One of the reasons we picked this game was that we thought most people might have dice of their own at home and could roll them themselves. Mulberry was the only one who didn’t, so being a true Millennial to the core, she opted for an electronic solution using an online dice roller.  Otherwise, it was very satisfying to hear the rattle of dice as people took their turns.  Although chatting was quite difficult over the network, that didn’t prevent a lot of smutty comments and requests for him to stop bragging when Green announced that he had “got a big one”.  Even more entertaining was when the conversation moved onto Iceland’s entry for Eurovision and links were shared through the chat feature which resulted in Pink pressing play by mistake and drowning out everything else.

– From Eurovision Song Contest on youtube.com

It was not an ideal way to play any game and with our group Las Vegas is not quick at the best of times, but the combination of people reading out their dice roll so that Blue and Pink could display them, dodgy internet connections, people sounding like Miss Othmar (the teacher from the Peanuts cartoons), and trying to keep eight people on-message, definitely slowed things down. At the moment though, these things are unavoidable and we managed. It was nearly 9pm before the first round finished and people were happy enough with the result to play a second, if not our usual third.

– From Corgi Adventures on youtube.com

Black made hay with his singleton on Casino Three, when Mulberry’s and Lime’s piles of dice cancelled each other out. Green just pipped Blue to take $100,000 on the Slot Machine, leaving her with just $20,000 for the round, and poor Lime with nothing at all.  Purple, Black, Pink, Green and Pine all had good totals in the range of $100,000-$150,000, so it was all to play for going into the second round.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

This time it was Casino Two that was a knife-fight in a phone box.  Pink, Blue and Pine all had four dice in the mix with Green in second place (and therefore winning the jackpot) with two.  The final roll of the game was Green’s “Biggun”, so when he rolled a two, nobody could believe his misfortune.  Just before he placed it though, he realised he had another option—the oft-forgotten Slot Machine. At which point Pink realised the jackpot could have been his if he had done the same on his previous turn.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Nobody really cared about the scores, but Mulberry, Lime and Blue all did better in the second round, though it was too little, too late. The winner was Green with total winnings of $280,000 with Purple in second with $230,000 and Pink and Black just behind.  The real loser of the evening was Covid though: it wasn’t a great game, but for a couple of hours, we’d all had a bit of fun chucking dice about, forgetting reality for a while.  And with that, Green, Lime, and Pine (signing in from Stoke of all places), left the meeting.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Those remaining, decided to give yukata.de a go, and after a bit of discussion, decided to opt for Port Royal. It took a while to get going with Blue and Black trying to remember how to play and explain it to Mulberry. The game itself is simple enough though, and yukata.de, though old-school, keeps everyone honest.

Yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Port Royal is a fairly simple, push-your-luck game.  On their turn the active player turns over cards until they either find one they want (and can afford) or go bust. There are four different types of card: Characters, Ships, Expedition and Taxes.  Ships are free and give money, Characters give victory points and special powers, while Expeditions give opportunities to trade Characters for more points, and Taxes give people behind in the game a little windfall.  Once the active player has taken their card, everyone else gets the chance to take/buy a card in turn order, paying the active player for the privilege.

Port Royal
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink started well, but Blue eventually got her act together and initially made inroads into his lead before taking it from him. When there was a succession of people going bust, her Jester gave Blue lots of cash enabling her to cement her position at the front.  It wasn’t long before her advantage was eroded though, first by Black, adding a Jester to his Admirals, and then by Purple, claiming an expedition.

Port Royal on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

It was all very tight towards the end, but Purple was the first to our chosen end of twelve points, with a score of thirteen points. Unfortunately, due to a rules misunderstanding, everyone was expecting one final round, but sadly, it was not to be.  Purple was the last player in the round, and once everyone had taken cards from her leavings, Yukata decided that was it, Game Over. In truth, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference, and Purple deserved her victory though the other platings might have been different if there had been another round.

Port Royal on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

It had been a slow and trying game, though not quite as bad as attempts to play synchronously at the end of last week when the website had repeatedly failed to record moves.  Mulberry was looking very tired and it was getting very late, so she signed off, leaving Blue, Pink, Black and Purple to start what will probably be a long, asynchronous game of Snowdonia. That’s another story though, especially as it could take a fortnight or longer to play!

Yucata.de
– Image from yucata.de

Learning Outcome: Playing remotely is not as good as playing round a table together, but it is definitely better than nothing at the moment.

17th March 2020 – “Unofficial boardGOATS”

There were people around the bar from 6pm, but we had the back room to ourselves, just the four of us.  The feel was similar to the Sunday after the fire, when people turned out and sat in the garden partly to help drink the smoke and water damaged stock, but largely to show support for a valued amenity, knowing that they would have to do without it for a while.  There was sadness, a sharing of news, some gossip, a certain amount of gallows humour, and for us, lots of desserts and Azul: Summer Pavilion.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

The game uses the same market mechanism used in the original Azul and the re-implementation, Stained Glass of Sintra.  The idea of this is that there are several markets (nine in the four player game) arranged in a circle and each with four coloured tiles.  On their turn, players either take all the tiles of one colour and put the rest in the centre, or take all the tiles of one colour from the centre.  Summer Pavilion differs from the other versions because each round has a special colour:  tiles of this colour are “wild” and can be used to replace any other when placing.  Additionally, only one tile of this colour can be taken from a market or the centre, and then as a bonus with other tiles.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

The structure of the game is also different with two phases; players take it in turns to take tiles, then they take it in turns to place tiles (rather than taking and placing straight away).  Perhaps the most obvious difference is the shape of the tiles though—rhombus shaped instead of square and the individual placement mats are built round pretty six-fold symmetric “flowers”.  When placing a tile, players have to match the colour on the mat, and the number on the space throwing the leftovers into a red tower—the build-quality of this is distinctly superior to the one in Stained Glass of Sintra, in fact, the build-quality of pretty much everything is better than in the first re-implementation.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Players score according to the size of the segment after addition, thus adding a piece to connect two other single pieces would score three points.  Enclosing special features on the board gives bonus tiles which are added to the players pile of tiles to be placed.  The game takes six rounds (one for each colour) and players get end-game bonuses for completing flowers and for filling all seven spaces with the same number.  The player with the most points is the winner.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Blue was the only person who had played it before, it was quickly clear that everyone liked this version more than the last, but found it more challenging than the original adding a new level of complexity.  Purple went first, and Lime quickly got his nose in front.  Every time someone threatened to catch him, he put on another spurt and increased his speed to maintain his lead at around ten points.  That left it down the bonuss and the question was whether anyone had enough to catch him.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue took the most points in the end game scoring, but starting at the back, she also had the most ground to make up; Lime took the least and starting at the front he had the most to lose.  Purple was the closest to catching Lime and looked to be in a good pace taking twenty-four points in bonuses (as many as Blue), but sadly had three tiles she had been unable to place.  That made all the difference as she finished three points behind Lime, with seventy seven points to his eighty.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime suggested playing again, something only he ever does—not that this is a bad thing at all, it’s just particularly unusual within the group. Not that anyone minds playing games more than once, but he is the only one to ever suggest it.  This time, most people seemed to think they could do a better job the second time round, so the suggestion was really well received.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

The second time round, Black and Blue started out with a different strategy, going for some of the expensive tiles first to maximise the extra tiles they could take early on.  Lime started as he had before taking an early lead and trying to keep it.  This time he found it much more difficult though.  Blue weathered his early spurt and kept with him, eventually overtaking him and sneaking into the lead.  This time everyone did better on the bonuses, as they knew what to look for, indeed everyone did better overall, though Lime said it didn’t feel like it.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue had the lead going into the final round and with two completed stars finished twenty point ahead of second place.  It was really tight for that though, with only a handful of points between second and fourth.  Despite a three point penalty at the end, Lime just managed to hold off Black, beating him into second place by a single point.  And that was it, the end of what is likely to be the last game for the group for what could be a very long time.  Everyone sadly said goodbye to the landlord, Charles and we all wish him and all the staff at The Jockey our very best for what will, no doubt, be an extremely difficult few months for them.

The Horse & Jockey
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  You only fully realise what you’ve got when you are about to lose it.

3rd March 2020

After a short, but sweet battle over who wasn’t going to have the last lamb pie and mash, Burgundy and Blue settled down to eat.  They were soon joined by Pine, Lime, and then Black and Purple bringing news of their new black and purple car.  When Ivory and Green arrived, the key players were in place for the for the “Feature Game”, the Hellas map from the Hellas & Elysium expansion to Terraforming Mars.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

In Terraforming Mars, each person takes the role of a giant corporation, sponsored by the World Government on Earth to initiate projects to make Mars habitable.  This is by raising the temperature, increasing the oxygen level, and expanding the ocean coverage.  The Hellas map presents a new areas of Mars to explore, in particular, the Mars south pole and the enormous seven-hex Hellas crater that just begs to become a giant lake.  Building around the pole gives placement bonuses in the form of heat and possibly even water.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of each round, players draw four cards, keeping as many as they like, but paying 3M€ per card.  Since the cards are so critical to the game-play, there is a variant where the cards are drafted, letting players see more of the cards available, but making the decisions more critical.  Players then take it turns to take one or two actions from seven possible actions.  At the end of the round, players simultaneously produce, turning any energy into heat, taking finance according to the combined total of their Terraforming Rating and their M€ production level, and finally receiving all other resources according to their production levels.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends once all three Global Parameters are met:  all of the Ocean Tiles have been placed, the Temperature has reached 8°C, and the Oxygen Level is at 14%. The game is driven by the cards, but the guts of it are the actions.  These include: play a card; use a Standard Project; use an Action Card; convert eight plants into a greenery tile and raise the Oxygen Level; use eight Heat to raise the Temperature; claim a Milestone, and fund an Award.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

Each card has a set of requirements, for example, Grass cannot grow at very low temperatures, so the Grass Card can only be played when the Temperature is above -16°C.  Other cards may require the player to spend energy, or other resources.  They also have a financial cost, though some can be paid for using Steel and/or Titanium as well.  There are three types of cards: red Event Cards, Green Automatic Cards and Blue Action Cards.  Green and Blue cards have an effect that occurs when they are played.  Red Event Cards have  an action that takes place once and are turned face down once they have been played.  Blue Action Cards also give the player a special ability that can be activated many times during the game, but only once per round.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to the actions on the cards, players can also carry out actions associated with Standard Projects.  These can be used several times per round and mostly involve spending money to increase the Temperature, add tiles to the board, or increase the player’s Energy Production.  Players can also sell cards at a rate of 1M€ per card, an expensive option as it’s less than they cost to buy, and it costs an action, but needs must when the Devil drives.  Finally, players can claim milestones (if they have played enough cards with Tags that qualify) or fund an award.  These cost money, but give Points at the end of the game.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

This is the basic game play, but there are a lot of expansions and variants, so setting up was slow as the group tried to figure out which cards came from which expansion and what bits they actually needed to use.  They got there in the end and chose to add in a few extra corporations to the standard set. Only Ivory received one of them, but still chose an original corporation, Ecoline, which gave him Plant production and reduced the number of plants he needed for a new Forest tile from eight to seven.  Green went for Inventrix, which gave him three extra cards at the start of the game and reduced the restrictions on the environmental requirements.  Burgundy chose Teractor, which allowed him to play cards with Earth Tags more cheaply.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory made an early play to plant a city amongst the northern green belt. He knew it was an unusual opening move and a bit of a gamble, but one he hoped would pay dividends later.  Burgundy also planted a city in the first round, nearer to the large potential ocean area in the Hellas crater. Green waited a little longer for his first city, but broke away from the others to plant it near the southern polar region, hoping to expand upon the unique scoring potential for this new board.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

Like most games of Terraforming Mars this one progressed gradually and slowly as everyone built their “engines”.  Ivory was clearly working on a Forest growth strategy, and also looking for the bonus end game awards.  Burgundy was trying to build cities next to oceans for bonus money and also keeping the sides of his cities next to Forests for end game scoring.  Green tried to use his relaxed environmental requirements to his advantage by playing cards early, but in the process failed to do anything with his southern city goal.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory made the first Milestone claim, taking the Energizer, for increasing his Energy Production to six.  He was about to claim the second too, Diversifier, for having eight different tags played, but then realised that he couldn’t use the Red Event cards and so couldn’t claim it after all.  Very soon after Green took it instead, much to the annoyance of Burgundy who was also on the verge of taking it, and would have done so on his next turn.  Ivory later claimed the third Milestone, Tactician (five environmentally restricted cards), which both he and Burgundy had noticed Green could have claimed earlier and made noises to that effect, but weren’t specific.  Green, however, had forgotten what it was awarded for and hadn’t noticed he qualified.

Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium
– Image by boardGOATS

As for the Awards, Ivory again funded the first one to activate the Cultivator, obviously key to his strategy as as it rewarded most Forests.  Ivory also wanted Space Baron in play (for most Jovian tags) and Burgundy paid for the final Magnate Award, which rewards the player with the most green cards.  In the end though, Burgundy won all three awards, with Ivory taking second place in two and Green just pipping Ivory to second by one card for the Magnate Award.  When it came to the scoring, the Terraforming Ratings were quite close with Ivory just ahead of Burgundy as he had been for most of the game.  Burgundy took a lot of points for the awards though and scored heavily for his cities.  The overall winner was therefore Burgundy with eighty-three points, sneaking ahead of Ivory who took second place.

Terraforming Mars
– Image by boardGOATS

While the Terraforming Mars group began setting up, everyone else took a slightly more relaxed look at the options available, and after some discussion, the group settled on Isle of Skye.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2016 and is a game most of the group have played before and really enjoyed.  The best way to describe it is a bit like Carcassonne, but with individual play areas and a very clever auction for the tiles.

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

The idea is that players start with three tiles drawn randomly, and place them in front of their screen.  Behind the screen they use their own money decide the price of two of the tiles and choose one to discard.  Once everyone has revealed their prices and discards, the first player chooses a maximum of one tile to purchase from the offering.  They cannot choose one of their own, and they pay the amount shown to the owner of the tile.  Once everyone has made their purchase, players then buy any remaining tiles in front of them, paying with the money the used to indicate the price.

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

This auction is very clever for lots of reasons. Firstly, the player with the best tiles, does not necessarily get them.  If they think they have something valuable, then they can give it a high price and will either end up keeping it (paying the money to the bank), or end up getting a lot of money for it.  For this reason, the key thing is getting the value right—over-pricing a tile risks it failing to sell and getting landed with it at a heavy cost.  This was Ivory’s comment from the next table.  There is a more subtle aspect to the auction, however.

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

Although they have the widest choice, if the first player prices their tiles too high, they may not have sufficient funds to buy anyone else’s, worse, nobody else will buy their tiles which means they will end up having to pay for them themselves, leaving them short of cash in the next round as well.  On the other hand, because the money paid for tiles and the money used to indicate their cost go straight into the seller’s hand, players later in the turn order, may have less choice, but will likely have more available cash.  In this way, the advantage of turn order is self-correcting and everyone has difficult decisions to make and probabilities to consider, though the decisions are different for each player.

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

Once the tiles have been bought and paid for, players add them to their kingdom.  Like Carcassonne, the terrain type on the edges of the tiles have to match up (though roads do not), and the tiles have features that are used for scoring.  There are more different features than in Carcassonne, however, and the scoring is very different.  In each game there are four scoring conditions, and each one is used three times during the game (five rounds for the five player game).  Additionally, there are also tiles that feature scrolls which are personal scoring conditions that take effect at the end of the game.

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

As Lime was new to the game, the group decided not to include the main components of the Journeyman or Druid expansions.  All the tiles went into the bag though, including those from both of the large expansions and the several mini expansions (the Adjacency Scrolls, both Tunnelplättchen, the Themenplättchen and the Kennerspiel des Jahres Promo), and anywhere the main feature required one of the main expansions were just rejected when they were drawn.

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

Pine got a flying start in the first round getting five points for his Broch/Lighthouse/Farm combo and a couple of points for a completed mountain range.  As the game progressed, more buildings fell into his lap and the points kept coming.  Black tried to collect Broch/Lighthouse/Farm sets, but couldn’t get any Brochs, so gave up and concentrated on getting diagonals instead.  This is not as easy as it looks because every tile added to a diagonal requires the fixed placement of two tiles.  Each round, players get a maximum of three tiles, so this is very restrictive.

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

It was a hard game:  Lime failed to complete and score any mountains and Purple struggled as there were two rounds when she failed to get any points at all.  Blue started off trying to build in a diagonal, but ended up picking up points for Barrels connected to her Castle by road, mostly at Lime’s expense.  She was aided when Pine drew a Barrel tile that Lime really fancied and had lots of money to pay for.  Not wanting to give away his plans, Lime told Pine he didn’t want the tile, so Pine, who believed him, chucked it away, leaving Blue a clear run.

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

Pine maintained and grew his lead, though the others did threaten to catch up towards the end.  His Brochs and enclosed scroll giving him two points for each one made all the difference though and he finished with sixty-nine points ten ahead of second place.  The battle for that was much closer with three players within six points of each other.  It was Blue who sneaked in front though, just ahead of Lime who put in a very creditable performance on his first attempt.

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

Terraforming Mars was still going on the next table, so although it was getting late the group decided to play something short, and considered Coloretto, but in the end settled on No Thanks!.  This is a really quick and simple “push your luck” reverse auction game.  Everyone starts with eleven chips and on their turn, either takes the card on offer (and any chips on it) or pays a chip to pass the problem on to the next person.  The aim of the game is end up with the lowest card total, subtracting any chips they have left.  The catch is that if a player has a run of cards, only the lowest is counted, however, at the start of the game nine cards are removed from the thirty-three in the deck…

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Black won a relatively uneventful first round with twenty, while Purple “top scored” with fifty-three.  It was quick and Terraforming Mars was into another round, so Lime suggested another round and everyone else concurred.  This was more remarkable.  Blue was first to take card.  Since the player who takes a card then has first dibs on the next card, when the next was close the the first, she took that too.  This continued with only a couple of breif interludes for cards she really didn’t want.  In the end, she had a remarkable run of fifteen cards from the twenty-four in play.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for her, as they were mostly low value cards and cards she needed, she had been unable to milk them to get chips from the others.  So she finished with a very reasonable thirteen, but in forth place behind Lime with twelve and, remarkably, Black with minus three and Pine who took the game with minus four, winning by virtue of the fact he played later in the round.  The Terraformers were just finishing, so the cards were shuffled for a third and final time.  This time, Lime tried the collecting cards trick, but he was not as lucky as Blue and ended with a card total of ninety-nine (and twenty-three chips).  Black and Blue both finished with a more normal nine, and tied for the win.  With everyone finished, but time was marching on, so everyone decided to say “No Thanks!” to another game and went home.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Getting a lead is good, but you have to be able to keep it.

18th February 2020

Food was a little delayed, so we decided to start playing something.  Food was clearly on our collective minds though, because we opted for a starter of Point Salad.  This is a very simple set collecting game where players take cards from the market.  The cards are double sided with brightly coloured vegetables on one side and scoring conditions on the other.  The market consists of three piles of cards showing the scoring condition sides, and six cards showing the reverse, the vegetable side.  The number of cards a player can take depends on where they take it from:  one scoring card or two vegetable cards.

Point Salad
– Image by boardGOATS

Each pile of cards feeds one pair of vegetables.  So, when a vegetable is taken, a scoring condition card is turned over to reveal its vegetable side, and that scoring condition is no longer available.  Players can also, once per turn, turn over one of their scoring cards so it becomes a vegetable, but they may never turn over a vegetable to make it a scoring card.  The game is over when all the cards have been distributed, and the scores have been totaled.  One of the more unusual things about this game is that both vegetable and scoring cards can be used more than once.  So, a player with a card giving points for sets of onion, cabbage and carrot (i.e. coleslaw), can score it as many times as they have sets.  Furthermore, if they also have a card that scores for pairs of carrots and lettuces (i.e. rabbit food), they can reuse the carrot cards and count them a second time.

Point Salad
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine began collecting lettuces, an obsession with green things that ended up lasting the whole evening.  Burgundy was more obsessed with red things, specifically tomatoes, so Mulberry, Black and Purple took great delight in snaffling them first, even when they didn’t help.  Blue only needed mayonnaise for her coleslaw as she collected onions, cabbages and carrots and generally made a nuisance of herself with Mulberry, sat to her left.  Food arrived before the game finished, and with people getting distracted by pizza and chips (always more appealing than salad) it is possible there were some missed opportunities.  It was tight finish at the front with only six points between the winner and third place.  Sadly, despite everyone else’s best efforts, Burgundy top-scored with fifty-six, ahead of Mulberry and then Blue.

Point Salad
– Image by boardGOATS

Once everyone had finished eating, it was time to decide who would play what.  The “Feature Game” was The Isle of Cats, a tile-laying game where players are rescuing cats and packing them onto their ship.  There were a lot of takers, none of which were keen to back down (even though Mulberry misunderstood and thought it was called “Pile of Cats” which, on reflection, does sound very exciting).  The game is not terribly complicated though we did make a bit of a meal of it. It is played over five rounds, each of which starts with card drafting.  Players are dealt seven cards and keep two passing the rest to their neighbour; this is repeated until they receive only one single card.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards come in five different colours: blue, green, yellow, brown and purple.  Blue cards are Lesson cards which are really just Objective cards, but these come in two types, personal and public.  Yellow cards depict some combination of “Boots”, “Cat Baskets” and “Broken Baskets”.  Boots are useful because they dictate where you come in the turn order, while Baskets are needed to used to “pay” to rescue Cats.  Yellow cards are treasure cards, brown cards are special “Oshax” cat cards and purple cards are instant effect cards that can be played at any time.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of every round, each player receives twenty Fish which are used to pay for both cards and Cats.  So, once the cards have been drafted, players choose which ones they want to buy. with prices varying from free to five Fish.  The rest are discarded.  It is imprudent to over-spend, as Fish are also needed later in the round to lure cats off the island and onto the players’ ships; some cats are easier to lure than others, with cats on one side of the island costing three Fish and others costing five Fish.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Once everyone has paid for their cards, they must play any blue Lesson cards they kept in the round.  Any Public Lessons are revealed while Private Lessons are kept to one side face down.  Players then play their green cards—this is the guts of the game.  Players do not have to play all their green cards straight away, some can be kept for later rounds.  The number of Boots played are counted up, and the turn order is adjusted according to the number of Boots played so that the player with the most goes first and so on.  Player then take it in turns to spend one of their baskets and the appropriate amount of Fish to take one of their Cats and place it on their ship.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts the game with one “Permanent Basket” which they can use once per round, aside from this, the other Baskets usually come from the cards played or other Permanent Baskets acquired later in the game.  The Cats come in five different colours and are depicted on polyomino tiles which are placed on the players’ Ship-player boards.  At the end of the game players score points for grouping Cats of the same colour together in Families:  the larger the Family the more points.  So, a group of three Cats of the same colour will score eight points, while a Family of ten Cats scores a massive forty points.  In addition, players lose one point for each rat they have failed to cover with a cat, and lose five points for each room they fail to fill.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, perfectly tessellating Cats is the aim of the game, but additional points are also available from the Lesson-objective cards.  It would be quite a challenge to perfectly tessellate tiles while keeping cats of the same colour together and conforming to the arbitrary objectives given in the Lessons, however, there are a couple of things to help grease the wheels.  Players who cover Scrolls on their Ships with a Cat of the same colour can add a Treasure tile to their ship for free—these are small tiles that are very useful for filling in holes.  There are only five scrolls though, one of each colour.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Additionally, however, once everyone has run out of Baskets, they can also play their Rare Treasure, yellow and brown cards.  The yellow cards enable players to place more Treasure tiles while brown cards allow players to place the very rare Oshax Cats (or “Oh, shucks!” Cats as we mostly called them).  These are very friendly Cats and will join any Cat Family of the player’s choice, though they have to pick the colour when they place it.  The cards are quite rare and very expensive, but a couple of these can be a really good way to boost the size of a Family.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to Baskets on cards, each player starts with one Permanent Basket which they can use once per round.  Blue started the game quickly, by playing two lesson cards followed by a special card which enabled her to swap them for a second Permanent Basket.  Everyone looked on agog, envious of the advantage that would give, however, it had cost a  lot of Fish, and she spent the rest of the game trying to recover. Mulberry struggled to get some useful cards, but eventually managed to get a Permanent Basket of her own while Burgundy managed to get a couple of his own and he concentrated on trying to make sure there were no gaps round the edge of his boat to fulfill Lesson 113 to give him twelve points.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine meanwhile, continued his obsession with green and hogged all the green cats.  Since cards are drafted most of the cards are seen by some of the other players, so when he said he wasn’t sure how one of his Lesson cards worked, Blue and Burgundy knew exactly what his problem was.  The Lesson in question was Card 222 which gave ten points for each row of twelve containing at least twelve cats of the same colour.  Green’s queries concerned whether the row had to be continuous or whether they could be broken up by treasure, and whether Oshax cats counted.  We said they didn’t have to be continuous and Oshax cats counted so long as they were the right colour.  As a result, Pine’s green car family continued to grow, now forming long rows, lots of them.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

It was in the final round that Mulberry turned nasty playing Public Lesson Card 235 which meant anyone  who didn’t have seven treasures would lose five  points, which inconvenienced Blue quite a bit.  When it came to scoring, it turned out that we weren’t quite right with the rule for Card 222—the rows should have been continuous.  That might have cost Pine ten or even twenty points, though of course had he known that, he would likely have been able to offset that a little.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyhow as finished with ninety points and a huge lead.  Over thirty points behind, it was close for second, but Burgundy, who just managed to ensure there were no gaps at the edge of his boat, pipped Blue, by two points.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

There are a number of really nice things about The Isle of Cats.  Firstly the production quality is stellar and there are some really, really nice touches.  The cat artwork is fantastic and the fancy screen-printed cat-eeples from the deluxe upgraded version are quite special.  Unquestionably, we made a mistake playing with five the first time round—we were slow, with a lot of people spending a lot of time checking whether tiles would fit and that made the game even slower.  Mulberry commented that she disliked variable turn order as a mechanism:  it is common in lots of games, but tends to encourage a lot of pauses followed by queries about whose turn it is.  The are other little things like the fact the purple and brown cards could have been more distinct.  Overall, it definitely deserves another chance, but it might be hard to get some of the players from the first time to give it a second try.

The Isle of Cats
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Ivory, Black and Lime, started off with Key Flow.  This was particularly sad for Blue to see, because Key Flow is a sort of card game of Keyflower, one of her favourites.  That said, Key Flow had been played at our sister group, the Didcot Games Club, just a few days previously, so she consoled herself with the memory of that and concentrated on The Isle of Cats.  Although Key Flow has a lot in common with Keyflower, it has a very different feel.  Where Keyflower is really an auction game (using meeples as currency), Key Flow is a card drafting game.  So, in Key Flow, players start with a handful of cards, simultaneously choose one and place it face down, passing the rest on.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Players then simultaneously reveal their card and add it to their village before picking up the hand they’ve just been given, selecting another card and so on.  Like Keyflower, the game is played over four seasons, and like Keyflower players receive some of the Winter offerings  at the start of the game which they can then use to drive their strategies.  The iconography is very similar too, so a player who is familiar with Keyflower generally feels at home with Key Flow.  The cards come in three flavours:  village buildings, riverside buildings and meeples.  Village cards are placed in a player’s village, in a row extending either side of their starting home card.  Riverside tiles are placed in a row below, slightly off-set.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Meeple cards are used to activate Village cards by placing them above the relevant building.  As in Keyflower, buildings provide resources, skill tiles, transport and upgrades.  They also provide meeple tokens which can be used to increase the power of meeple cards or activate a player’s own buildings at the end of the round.  Arguably the clever part is how the meeple cards work.  At the centre of each card there are a number of meeples which dictate the power of the card.  A single meeple card can be played on any empty building; a double meeple card can be played on an empty building or one where one other card has already been played.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

If two cards have already been played, a triple meeple card is required to activate it a third and final time.  Alternatively, a lower power meeple card can be played with one of the meeple tokens, which upgrade a single meeple card to a triple meeple card.  Double meeple cards can also be upgraded, but each building can only be activated a maximum of three times per round.  The really clever part is that the meeple cards have arrows on them indicating where they can be played:  in the player’s own village, in the neighbouring village to the right, the village to the left, or some combination.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Black began the game by adding the Key Mine to his village which provided him with iron (wooden, black octagonal prisms).  In summer he added the Smelter which added more iron producing capacity (converting skill tiles), but he quickly upgraded this to give gold instead as it is more versatile and can be used instead of any other resource and any left overs are worth a point each at the end of the game.  Ivory also had resource providers in the shape of the Workshop which provided him with a wood, an iron and a stone every time it was activated.  He then added an Apprentice Hall which generated skill tiles.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Lime built a village strong in gold production, with the Gold Mine and Brewer and potentially the Carpenter too if he could upgrade it.  To his village, Black added a flock of sheep on his river bank while Ivory added a heard of pigs; Lime was more of a mixed farmer though with a bit of everything.  As the game progressed into the scoring rounds, Ivory added a Truffle Orchard which gave him four points for each pig and skill tile pair, allowing him to put all his pigs to good use netting twenty-four points.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Lime and Black pulled in similar points tallies with their Emporium (four points for each green meeple and gold pair) and Traveller’s Lodge (points for transport and boats) respectively.   With similar points for their upgraded buildings as well, it was close and the smaller contributors became really important.  Ivory’s Trader which scored him fifteen points for stone and axe skill tiles, while both Black and Lime scored ten points for their Autumn stores (Stone and Timber Yards respectively).

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Perhaps it was the points he got from the meeples (Winter Fair and Craftsmen’s Guild), but there was only two points between first and second in the end. Black finished with a total of seventy-one points, just enough for victory—a couple of points more than Ivory, with Lime not far behind.  It had been a hard fought game, and Ivory was impressed how the Scribe, which in Keyflower he felt was always a winner, had little effect.  For him, this made the game more interesting, though he had really enjoyed the last time the group played Keyflower with the Farmers expansion, as that had also mixed things up.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Given the recent game with the Didcot group it was inevitable that a comparison was going to be made.  This time Black won, but he scored fewer points than he had the previous week when he had come second.  Perhaps the most marked difference was how much quicker the three player game of Key Flow had been than the six player game a few days earlier.  Where the six player game had taken all evening, there was still time for something small, and with Lime taking an early bath, Ivory and Black chose to play a head-to-head of Ticket to Ride: London.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Ticket to Ride is a train game with an inexplicable alure, which everyone in the group loves and we’ve found that the small versions of the game, New York and London make excellent fillers.  The rules and game play are very similar to the full versions, but the take half the time, and with just two players, that makes it a very short game indeed.  On their turn, players take coloured cards or spend them to place their pieces on the map.  Points are awarded for completing tickets, but critically, failing to connect two locations marked on a ticket will score negative points.  The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Ivory built a network connecting Brick Land and the Tower of London in the East with Hyde Park in the West, while Black joined Regent’s Park in the North with Waterloo and Elephant & Castle in the South.  The crunch point came in the area around Covent Garden, but despite this, both players managed to complete all four of their tickets.  This meant it was down to the length of the tickets and the number of pieces placed—Ivory had the edge on both of these.  His revenge for the result in Key Flow was completed by a four point bonus for connecting all four in the St. Paul’s district resulting in a ten point victory.  With that, Ivory headed home, leaving Back to watch the end of The Isle of Cats.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Games take longer with more players.