Category Archives: Games Night

2nd April 2019

The evening began with a lot of people eating, the return of Mulberry’s daughter, Maroon, and the arrival of someone new, Lime.  So while the usual suspects finished their supper, everyone else played a game of Incan Gold (aka Diamant).  This is a light, “push-your-luck” type game, where players are exploring a mine by turning over cards, sharing any Gems these reveal.  After each card has been revealed, players simultaneously choose whether to leave the mine or stay and see another card revealed.

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, as well as gem cards, the deck also includes Hazards like scorpions, snakes, poison gas, explosions and rockfalls.  When a particular Hazard is revealed for a second time, the mine collapses.  Anyone still inside the mine at this point loses all the gems they’ve collected during the round, while those that left early keep their winnings and stash them in their tent.  So, the trick is that as players leave, the share of the gems grows larger, but so does the risk of collapse. Additionally, there are also Artifact cards.  When one of these is revealed nobody gets any gems until they leave, but if they leave alone, they not only get the Artifact, but also any remainders from the division of spoils associated with the Gem cards revealed earlier in the round.

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over five rounds, and like all push-your-like games like this, players who are unlucky in the first round often feel they are out of the game.  This is particularly true where one player does really well in the first round as they have can play safe and can afford to leave the mine early to consolidate their position.  However, this time there were a lot of players and everyone was somehow encouraged to stay in the mind keeping things close.  As the game progressed however, the pack began to split and a small group of leaders began to emerge.  In the end, Mulberry’s wind-ups failed to put Pine off his game and he finished with more than twice her total, winning the game with twenty-five Gems.  Purple was a close second though, with Maroon not far behind in third.

Incan Gold
– Image by boardGOATS

With food and the first game finished, it was time to decide who was going to play the week’s “Feature Game”, Dinosaur Island.  This is a worker placement game set in a dinosaur theme park.  Although it’s not named specifically, the colour, theme, artwork and feel is clearly intended to evoke an impression of the most famous dinosaur theme park, Jurassic Park,  despite having ten people and the Totally Liquid expansion available (which provides the pieces for a fifth player), we decided it was likely to be a long game and that sticking to four or fewer might be wise, and so it proved.  The rest of the group were half-way through their chosen game, Las Vegas, before the dino-group had even finished setting up, never mind the rules run-through.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Las Vegas is one of our most popular games, and the idea is very simple, on their turn, the active player rolls their dice and uses them to “bet” in one of the casinos.  “Betting” is done by placing all the dice of one value on the corresponding casino.  On their next turn, the player re-rolls their dice and does the same again.  Each casino has a pot of cash and after the last dice has been placed, the player with the highest “bid” at each casino (i.e. the player who placed the most dice), wins the largest denomination note.  Similarly, the player who placed the second largest bid taking the second highest denomination and so on.  The catch is that before the order is determined, any dice involved in a tie are completely removed, so a bet of a single die can win, even though there could be several higher bets, which makes the game great fun.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We usually play with the extra high denomination notes and the “Big Dice” from the Boulevard expansion, as well as the Slot Machine mini-expansion.  The “Big Dice” add to interest in the decision making when pacing bets, as they are double-weight, and count for two dice.  The Slot Machine, on the other hand, gives another place for players to bet, but instead of having a specific number, players can place all their dice of one number as long as each number is only placed once.  At the end of the round, the player with the most dice in the Slot Machine takes the highest denomination note from the pot, but in the case of a tie, the total number of pips on the dice are taken into account, then the highest value dice.

Las Vegas: The Slot Machine
– Image by boardGOATS

Once again, Pine was caught in a tussle, this time with Purple, which culminated in him placing four sixes to beat her “three-of-a-kind”, just to annoy her.  Green almost always does badly at this sort of game and this was no exception, although the game was reasonably close this time.  Mulberry and Maroon, mother and daughter tied for third place, but it turned out that the squabble between Purple and Pine might actually have had a real impact on the final result as they toughed it out for first place.  In the end, those four dice might have been critical as Pine beat Purple by a measly $30,000 – a substantial amount to most of us, but a relatively small sum in this game where most players win quarter of a million dollars or more.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Dinosaur Island was still going on and was looking like it still had some way to go (though they had finally started).  Mulberry, Maroon and Pine all wanted an early night, but Green and Lime decided to keep Purple company for another game, which eventually turned out to be Walk the Plank!  This is another popular game and Green and Purple felt it was essential to introduce Lime to it.  The game is a programming game with a pirate theme.  The idea is that each player has a hand of cards and at the start of the round “programs” their turn by deciding which cards they are going to play, then they take it in turns to action one card per turn.  The point is, although players have to choose three cards at the start of the round, by the time the final cards are played the game has changed so much that any plans made at the start will have gone completely to wrack and ruin.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

So, players start with three pirate meeples each and the aim is to push everyone else off the ship, along the plank and off the end thus sending them to visit Davey Jones’ Locker.  Once again, Green was picked on by the others and was the first to lose all three of his pirateeples to the kraken, and therefore took on the role of the Ghost Meeple.  The Ghost is confined to the ship, has a restricted set of actions and only gets to carry out one per round.  Unfortunately, the game doesn’t play so well with two, and as a result when it got down to a couple of meeples each for Purple and Lime they got bogged down in a bit of a stale-mate.  This didn’t make it any less fun though.  In the end it was a Ghostly Green who helped push Purple’s final meeple off the boat and Lime did the rest giving him his first win; hopefully we can look forward to many more in the coming weeks.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table the other four were playing the week’s “Feature Game”, Dinosaur Island.  Although it took a long time to set up and explain, Dinosaur Island is not actually that complex a game.  The game is played over four phases.  In the first phase, a set of beautiful bespoke dice are rolled and players play their scientist meeples to choose dinosaur “designs” or DNA resources associated with the available dice, or increase their DNA storage.  In the second phase, players can use their funds to buy upgrades to their technologies from the market place, which basically improves the quality of the actions players can take in the next phase.   The third phase is the core, “worker-placement” round.  This is when players can “build” dinosaurs, reinforce their security, convert DNA into other types of DNA etc.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

In the final, fourth round, players open their park to the public, drawing visitor-meeples blind, out of a bag.  The visitors come in two types, yellow, paying visitors and pink “hoodlums” who don’t pay and are very good at avoiding getting eaten.  The total number of visitors is dependent on the total excitement rating of the dinosaurs each player has in their park; the more dinosaurs a player has and the more exciting they are, the more visitors a player has and therefore the more money they receive in gate receipts.  However, the more exciting dinosaurs also need better security which is expensive.  If a park’s security is insufficient, the dinosaurs get out and start eating the visitors – each surviving visitor scores the park owner a victory point while visitors that are eaten cost victory points.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

There are a couple of little tweaks that give the game a lot of replay-ability.  For example, there are eleven “plot twist” cards which introduce slight variations to the rules keeping things fresh.  For example, turn order is normally dictated by the number of points each player has, but the group played with a “plot twist” that meant the player order was always the same, with the first player progressing clockwise one place each round.  There are also thirty-nine end-game goal cards of which a small number of cards are selected for each game, when a set number of these have been completed by at least one player, this triggers the end of the game.  Any number of players can complete these objectives and receive the points associated with them, but once one player has completed an objective, it will become unavailable at the end of the round.  Thus all players who achieve an objective will do so in the same round.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the group, played with the aquatic dinosaurs from the Totally Liquid expansion, partly because they alleviate the incessant “neon pink-ness” of game, but mostly just because they are cool.  Blue began by getting a bit carried away with the coolness of swimming dinos and started out taking a plan for a very exciting Megalodon largely simply because she had heard of it, and without thinking through the consequences. Having read the rules in advance, Burgundy had a much better handle on the challenges associated with the game and made a beeline for the special Dino Security upgrade which enabled him to increase the security in his park a second time per round at no extra cost.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Black also understood the importance of threat and security and decided to try to deal with the problem by keeping his threat level down.  One unfortunate side-effect of this is that most low threat dinosaurs are un-exciting and attract fewer visitors.  It all became a bit academic though as his threat level spiraled out of control.  Blue, realised she had made a bit of bish and needed to do something to enable her to start producing Megalodons without getting all her visitors eaten and hemorrhaging points.  So she decided to concentrate on upgrading her technologies hoping to net the bonus seven points from the end-game objective rewarding players for having four upgraded technologies.  Black quickly realised he couldn’t keep up with Blue’s developments and as it wasn’t going to happen for him focused his efforts elsewhere.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Ivory had bagged the popular T-Rex dinosaur plan and was producing them in large numbers.  He, like Black also got heartily sick of pulling “hoodlums” out of the bag instead of paying visitors.  Black bought himself a technology to deal with the problem, but Ivory chose a different route, employing an expert who arrested any hoodlums in his park with the net effect that they became less prevalent for everyone else as well.  Experts are expensive though and not everyone could afford one, or felt they were worth the money.  Certainly they are more valuable if they are employed early in the game so players get their money’s worth

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone got points from the end-game objectives, but as the game came to a close it was clear who was in pole position.  Although his security wasn’t quite sufficient the huge number of visitors turning up every round put Ivory in front by some twenty-plus points.  In contrast, it was very close for second place however, with just five points between second place and the wooden spoon.  The nature of the game means keeping tabs on points, security, threat and excitement levels is quite a fiddly business. Since it was possible to throw a very small blanket over the three competing for second place, it is quite possible that the scores weren’t accurate, nevertheless, the Black finished in second place in what had been a very enjoyable game.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Security is very important and should not be neglected.

19th March 2019

Yet again, the evening began with a discussion of everyone’s ailments: Pine had spent the last fortnight visiting Swindon for a daily dose of intravenous antibiotics; Green’s absence was explained by his contagious skin condition, and Blue was feeling particularly blue thanks to a nasty cold (a present from Pink).  The general itchiness of the group was increased by the addition of everyone’s favourite nit-nurse stories.  Perhaps it was the general malaise, but there seemed to be a lot of food eaten, including several helpings of ice-cream, but eventually we got down to playing games, beginning with the “Feature Game”, Botswana (aka Wildlife Safari).  Unusually, this was very, very popular, and Mulberry drew the short straw, so she was promised a chance to play it soon.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

Botswana is deceptively simple:  Players have a hand of cards and take it in turns to play one card onto central set piles and then take any one of the plastic animals.  There are five “animal suits” and six cards in each, numbered zero to five.  At the end of the round, players multiply the number of plastic animals they have in each suit by the face value of the last card played in that suit.  Thus, a player with three plastic elephants where the last card played was a four would score twelve for that suit.  The game is played over as many rounds as there are players.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

It took a round for people to get a feel for the game, but it quickly became clear how clever it is.  A bit like 6 Nimmt!, Botswana has a feeling of luck about it, but it is also very tactical.  Players want to make sure they play the high value cards that they have and get as many animals as possible in those suits, but play them early and someone else may subsequently play a zero making them worthless.  On the other hand, waiting to the end to play high cards risks someone else ending the game and failure to maximise the score.  So the game is all about timing and second guessing everyone else.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Pine took the first round, and while the second and third were more level, going into the final round, Black commented to Burgundy that it was clearly a two horse race.  Blue’s answer that it was surely a “two zebra race”, was met by Pine’s response that he’d rather ride an elephant as they are generally better tempered and can be trained to carry people.  After a  discussion about whether the plastic, model elephants were African or Asian, the appearance of the leopards and their spots, and the collective noun for rhinoceros, the game continued.  Like a crush of rhino, Pine could barely contain his pride as he trampled over the rest of the herd in his stubbornness.  In a bit of a dazzle, Blue came in second with a late leap.

Botswana
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Ivory, Mulberry and Purple were playing Splendor. Although we’ve played this very extensively, somehow Mulberry had missed out.  The game is very simple however:  on their turn, players either take three different coloured gem-chips or use gem chips to buy cards.  The cards are effectively permanent gems that can be reused without loss, but some of them give victory points as well.  The other source of points are Nobles: players who collect a given number of cards featuring certain gems get a visit from a noble and a bunch of points as a result.  Despite Burgundy being occupied with the safari on the next table, it was still a bit of a landslide.  Diamonds were scarce, and Purple had a bit of a melt-down.  With Mulberry new to the game, the way was clear for Ivory who took two of the Noble tiles and finished the game with an unassailable sixteen points.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone was feeling a bit washed out, and nobody was particularly enthusiastic about suggesting games to play.  Ivory was the most proactive suggesting Altiplano, Dice Forge, Dinosaur Island and Bohnanza, but nobody looked terribly interested.  After a discussion about which throat sweets people preferred (where Fisherman’s Friends were equated to “Toilet Duck Pastels”, eventually the inevitable happened and the whole group settled down to a  game of Bohnanza.  This is one of our most popular games when everyone’s a bit tired and can’t be bothered with anything more complex, and often gets an outing when everyone wants to play together.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is quite simple and everyone in the group knows it well now, but the game always starts with everyone chorusing “Don’t rearrange your cards!” as the habit is so ingrained.  On their turn, the active player must play the first bean card into a field in front of them, playing a second if they wish.  Two cards are turned over from the central deck which can also be planted or traded, but must be planted by someone before the active player can trade cards from their hand with anyone else round the table and finally draw cards into the back of their hand.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

As a group, we usually “play nice”, that is to say, players trade positively rather than negatively and gratefully accept freebies if offered (by players keen to get unwanted cards out of their hand).  With a full compliment of players, the game is always tight, often coming down to luck and this was no exception, and no less enjoyable as a result.  With only three points between first and sixth place it looked like it was going to be a three way tie between Pine, Purple and Ivory who all finished with eleven points.  Suffering with a think head though, Blue was slow counting and they were all disappointed when, after a couple of recounts (just to check) she pipped them to first place.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

With Ivory and Mulberry wanting an early night, we were looking for something short before they went.  Not many games play seven well, but 6 Nimmt! is always popular and this was no exception.  People often claim 6 Nimmt! is a game of luck, but in reality it is one of walking a tightrope of perfect timing:  get it wrong and everything falls apart, but get it right and with Lady Luck in support a perfect round is possible.  Indeed, Ivory managed just such a perfect round, not once, but TWICE, last time we played, and everyone was determined he wasn’t going to manage the same this time.  Ivory’s “ivory tower” quickly fell, as he picked up nine points; Pine and Blue did well  taking a single point each, but Mulberry managed to keep a clean sheet.  We play over two rounds, so the question is usually not so much who manages to do well in the first round as who manages to sustain it over both rounds.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory’s game went completely to pot in the second round when he top scored with twenty-five, leaving him to fight for the dubious honour of the Wooden Spoon.  That was close between Purple, Burgundy and Ivory, but this time, Burgundy won the race for the bottom with forty-three.  Black managed a clear round at the second attempt, but it couldn’t make up for his fourteen in the first round.  It was very tight at the front, with all three of the lowest scorers maintaining their timing for the second round; Mulberry followed her clean sheet with five, but Pine went one better finishing with a total of four.  Normally either of these scores might have been expected to be enough to secure a win, but Blue, despite her lurgy, added a second single point round to her first, ending with the lowest score, with just two.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Once Ivory and Mulberry had said their farewells, the rest of the group were looking for something light that would play five.  Coloretto was an option, but …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake) was on top and hadn’t had an outing for a while and with general laziness and lethargy the order of the day it was inevitable that Coloretto was going to lose out this time.  …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne is just about the simplest game to use the “I divide, you choose” mechanic, but simple is sometimes simultaneously very clever and in this case, it is also very well rendered.  The game consists of a pile of fifty-seven pieces of “cake”, each one an eleventh of a complete cake, randomly shuffled to form five stacks (with two left out).  As well as artwork showing the type of cake, each piece also has a number on it (the number in the deck), and some have a blob of cream as well.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, the “Master Baker” take one of the piles of face down pieces and turns them over one at a time to make a complete cake.  They then divide this into “slices”.  The player to the Master Baker’s left chooses a slice, and for each individual piece they can either keep it, putting it face up in front of them, or eat it, turning it face down and putting it to one side.  At the end of the game, each player scores points if they have kept the most slices of a particular type, and scores points foe each blob of cream they have eaten.  It was quite a cagey game and was very close as a result.  Blue was the only one not to eat any of her cake, not due to any dairy or low fat diet, simply because her head was too fuzzy to deal with the extra option.  Somehow though, she got lucky and nearly everything she kept scored her points.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It’s possible to win, even with a bad cold.

5th March 2019

The evening started with lots of chit-chat including discussions about the smell of weed (the cheap stuff is called skunk for good reason apparently), a Czech bloke who was eaten by his illegally kept lion and the fact that Pine was feeling very poorly (which ultimately turned out to be a nasty case of cellulitis rather than man-flu). Meanwhile, lots of pancakes were eaten and there was a mix-up between Blue’s and Green’s leading to much hilarity.  The return of Ivory after a a couple of months on “sabbatical” heralded the long awaited Key Flow, as the “Feature Game”.  Key Flow is a card game version of one of our favourite games, Keyflower, and before Ivory left we promised we would save it for his return.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple and Black quickly excused themselves from playing Key Flow, and with Blue, Burgundy and Green joining Ivory, the group divided into two with unusual alacrity.  Blue and Burgundy explained the rules, which though related to Keyflower (and by extension, Key to the City: London) with familiar iconography and similarly played over four seasons, give the game a very different feel.  Key Flow is a very smooth card drafting game, so players start with a hand of cards and choose to one to play and hand the rest on to the next player.  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.  Meeple cards are used to activate Village cards by placing them above the relevant building.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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.  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.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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.  In the four player game, this means everyone has access to the buildings in three of the villages, but not the fourth (located opposite).  And in this game that was critical for Blue.  As in Keyflower, players begin the game with a small number of winter scoring tiles (cards in Key Flow), which can be used to drive their strategy.  In Key Flow, each player additionally chooses one at the start of the final round, so they know they are guaranteed to keep one of these and can invest more deeply in one strategy.  As a result, Blue was caught in a difficult situation.  As the game developed, Burgundy and Ivory both collected a lot of skill tiles; Blue was also interested as she had received the Scribe winter card at the start which gives seven points for every set of three different skill tiles.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for Blue, she could only get pick-axe skill tiles and Green sat opposite, had the Hiring Fair which would have allowed her to change some of them, but the seating position meant she couldn’t use it.  Ivory had other plans, however, and was busy picking up pigs and sheep.  Burgundy was producing gold and Green was producing wood.  Everyone was hampered by a paucity of coal as the Key Mine and miner cards were among those removed at random at the start of the game.  The game progressed through the seasons, and the game is very smooth, with more restrictions on the decisions and less of the negative, obstructive bidding that often features in Keyflower, making it a bit quicker to boot, though the setup is a little tedious.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Green were not in the running which was notable as they usually both do well with Keyflower, but both had struggled to get the cards or skill tiles they needed for their strategies.  In truth, though the theme is similar and the iconography and some of the mechanisms are the same, the two games are really very different, so perhaps it was not so surprising after all.  It was very, very close between Ivory and Burgundy at the front though, with just two points in it.  Ivory had no points from autumn cards, but a lot of upgrades and lots of points from his winter tiles.  In particular he scored well for his Truffle Orchard, which rewards players for having a lot of pigs and skill tiles, that he coupled with the marvelously named Mansfield Ark which allows pigs to be replaced with sheep.  In contrast, Burgundy had fewer upgraded buildings, but a lot of autumn cards that scored points for him, especially his Stoneyard.  It wasn’t enough though, and despite Green dumping his winter tile to try to limit Ivory’s scoring options, Ivory just beat Burgundy into second place—Welcome back Ivory!

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

While Blue and Burgundy explained the rules to Key Flow and set up the decks of cards, the other debated what to play.  Auf Teufel komm raus came out of the bag and then went back into the bag when Purple decided she didn’t want to play it, only for it come back out again in response to the chorus of protests, and this time make it onto the table.  This is a game we played for the first time a few weeks ago and enjoyed though we struggled with constantly making change due to a shortage of poker chips that make up the currency.  Thanks to the very kind people at Zoch Verlag, now furnished with a second pack of chips, it was time to play again.  The game uses “push your luck” and bidding in combination to make a simple but fun game.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone simultaneously places bets on the maximum value of coal that will be drawn out of the fire by one player in the round. Players then take it in turns to draw coals, either stopping when they choose or going bust if they draw a piece.This time, despite her reluctance to play it, Purple started very quickly and held the lead for most of the game.  Like last time, Mulberry skulked at the back, and abused this position to overtake Pine at the end by making a pact with the Devil.  Black stayed hidden in the pack for the majority of the game and then, in the final round pushed the boat out and gambled big.  In this game going large can lead to a spectacular win or equally spectacular loss.  This time, the gamble paid off and Black raked in a massive three-hundred and eighty points taking him just ahead of Purple in the dying stages of the game.

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

With Auf Teufel komm raus over and Key Flow still underway, Purple was able to choose a game she wanted to play, and picked Hare & Tortoise.  This is an old game, the first winner of the Spiel des Jahres award, forty years ago. The game is a very clever racing game where players pay for their move with Carrots, but the further they move the more it costs.  The icing on the cake are the Lettuces though:  each player starts with a bunch of Carrots and three Lettuces—players cannot finish until they have got rid of all their Lettuces and nearly all of their Carrots.  On their turn the active player pays Carrots to move their token along the track; each space has a different effect including enabling them to eat Lettuces, but each will only hold one player’s token at a time.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Competition for these Lettuce spaces is always fierce, but that’s not the only stress, as efficiency is key, players who move too fast consume their Carrots too quickly and have to find a way to get more, which slows them down.  The winner is the first player to cross the finishing line, but that’s only possible if they’ve eaten all their Lettuces and almost all of their Carrot cards.  Last time we played Hare & Tortoise, it was six-player mayhem and a real scrabble as a result.  This time with just four, it was still a scrabble, but not quite as intense.  Black got his nose in front and managed his timing very effectively so was first to cross the line.  Pine and Mulberry were close behind, the latter just two turns from crossing the line herself.

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

Hare & Tortoise finished at about the same time as Key Flow; Pine had looked like death all night and Mulberry had an important meeting in the morning so both left early.  Ivory, on the other hand, said he would stay for another game so long as it was short, so the rump of the group settled down to an old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.  Everyone knew the how to play: players simultaneously choose a card, then simultaneously reveal them before playing them in ascending order placing each on the row ending with the highest card that is lower than the card being played.  When the sixth card is added to a row, the first five are taken and the number of heads contributes to the player’s score, lowest score wins.  We tend to play a variant over two rounds with half the deck in each round and not resetting the table in between.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue continued her poor run of form and top-scored in the first round with twenty-six, closely followed by Purple with twenty-two.  With a round to go, Burgundy, Ivory, Green and Black were all still in with a shout though.  Unusually, the second round went very similarly to the first, with Purple top-scoring with thirty-one (giving her a grand-total of fifty-three), Burgundy and Ivory getting exactly the same score as they had in the first round, and Green finishing with a similarly low score.  Only Black and Blue had significantly different scores, and while Black’s second round score destroyed his very competitive position from the first round, nothing was going to put Blue in with a chance of winning.  It was Ivory, again, who was the winner though, with a perfect zero in both rounds—two games out of two on his return (while we are very pleased to see him back again, we’ll have to put a stop to this run!).

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory decided to quit while he was ahead, leaving five to play Sagrada with the expansion.  Sagrada is a similar game to Azul, using dice instead of tiles and with a stained glass theme (which was slightly controversially also used in the recent Azul sequel, Stained Glass of Sintra). In Sagrada, each player has a grid representing a stained glass window.  At the start of the round, a handful of dice are rolled, and players take it in turns to choose one and place it in their window.  Once everyone has taken one die, everyone takes a second in reverse order (a la the initial building placement in Settlers of Catan).  This leaves one die which is added to the Round Track—the game ends after ten rounds, i.e. when after the tenth die has been placed on the Round Track.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

When players place dice, they must obey the restrictions on the window pattern card selected at the start of the game.  This time we played as well as two cards from the main decks (Gravitas for Purple and Firmitas for Black), we also used three promos: Vitraux (Blue), International Tabletop Day (Burgundy), and Game Boy Geek (Green; ironic as he’d never had a Game Boy in his life!).  This doesn’t score any points they come from the objectives:  public, which are shared and private which are personal.  This time, the public objectives awarded points for columns with different colours, rows with different colours and columns with different numbers.  The original game only included enough material for four players, but the recent expansion provided the additional pieces for the fifth and sixth, and four of the five private objectives came from there, giving those players the total face value of dice played in specific places.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

In addition to the private objectives, the group also decided to use the private dice pools.  When these are used, players only take one die from the draft (instead of two), taking the second from a pool rolled at the start of the game.  The final part of the game is the tool cards, three of which are drawn at random.  These can be used by players to help manipulate dice after they’ve been rolled or placed.  This time the tools were the Grinding Stone, Lens Cutter and Tap Wheel which enabled players to rotate dice to the opposite face, swap a drafted die with one from the Round Track and move two dice of the same colour that matches one of the dice on the Round Track.  To use these Tools, players must pay in tokens that are allocated at the start of the game according to the difficulty of their window pattern card.  Any of these left over at the end of the game is worth a point, but otherwise, points can only be scored by completing the objectives, and any dice that cannot be placed score negative points.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

The problem with this game is that it is extremely easy to get into a pickle and end up placing dice illegally.  Blue, who was a bit all over the place due to a night shift on Monday thought she would be the culprit, but it was Black who fell foul of the rules, and several times too.  Each mistake only cost him one point though, and in some respects it is better to have to remove dice than compromise plans.  Although she didn’t make any mistakes, Purple was concentrating so hard on placing all her dice she completely forgot to work on the objectives.  Misplaced dice tend to be indicative of other problems though and Blue was absolutely determined not break the rules this time, having made a complete pig’s ear of the game just over a year ago at New Year.  As a result she concentrated so hard that she gave herself a headache.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end, arguably it was worth the sore head as Blue not only avoided any illegal die placements, but also managed to get sets of different colours for all five columns in her window. Green managed four out of his five columns though and did well on some of the other objectives too.  Burgundy hadn’t done so well on that objective, but had done better on others, especially his own private objective.  It was very close for second, with Burgundy just one point behind Green’s sixty six, but Blue, headache and all was well in front with over eighty.  As they packed up, the group discussed the inclusion of the private dice pools and the effect of the extra player.  Blue felt the dice pools gave a better chance to plan, while Black felt they made the decision space more complex and slowed the game down.  Certainly, with five there’s a lot of thinking time and it can be very frustrating to see others ahead in the turn order take all the “best” dice, something that seemed worse with more players.

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It’s great to welcome people back when they’ve been away!

19th February 2019

Blue, Black, Purple, Burgundy and Mulberry were just trying to squeeze in a quick game of No Thanks! before eating, when Green arrived with his parents.  They were quickly followed by the first round of food, so it wasn’t until they had finished that the carefully counted piles of chips finally got put to use.  The game is very simple:  players take it in turns to either take the card on the table or pay a chip to pass the problem on to the next player.  If they don’t have any chips left they must take the card when it is their turn (and any chips that are on it).  The game ends when the deck has been depleted and everyone scores the sum of the face value of the cards minus any remaining chips—the player with the lowest score is the winner.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Last time we played this, Pine dropped a chip, but a thanks to the kind generosity of the people at  Amigo Spiele, it had not only been very swiftly replaced, but they had kindly sent spares in case the something similar happened again.  And they were almost required straight away, when Black managed to send a couple of chips flying.  Having learnt our lessen from last time, we immediately took a quick intermission to play “Hunt the Game Piece”, finding one quickly, while the other perched precariously over the same large gap that the had been so disastrous last time.  The rogue chip was rescued without further calamity, but for the avoidance of other mishaps, we might have to put tissue paper down the hole for next time…

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game of No Thanks! was a bit incidental around all that excitement.  Burgundy took the first card in an effort to get ahead, but it wasn’t the best card to build from.  Purple and Blue were forced into trying to build runs from the ends, which is always risky, but can yield huge rewards.  This wasn’t going to be one of those times though and Purple’s problems were compounded by the fact that she only discovered the twenty-three in the middle of her long run was missing when it came to scoring.  Mulberry was very tempted by some if scoring cards, but despite the fact she was pushed to her last chip, she managed to avoid getting herself into a mess.  Black played a very canny game building a small medium value run, not tempted to take a chance on gaps.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone finished eating, it was time to decide what to play.  Black had suggested that Dixit might be suitable for Green’s parents.  However, Green was keen to play the “Feature Game”, Celestia (a remake of the older game, Cloud 9), and as Black was the only one who knew the rules, that meant he was up for that too.  Burgundy was less keen, so in the end, as Celestia is better with more players, and to avoid too much shuffling of seats, Blue, Mulberry and Burgundy left everyone else to board the airship.  In this game there is no board, instead there are nine city tiles making a path.  Players then take on the roles of adventurers exploring the cities of Celestia by airship.  At the beginning of each journey a new captain is identified and they begin by rolling the dice to discover the challenges they will face.  Before the Captain faces these challenges, however, however, each player must decide whether to stay on board, or leave the airship.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

At each city there is a pile of treasure cards (mostly just victory points) which get better as the journey progresses.  When a player leaves the ship, they take a treasure card at that city, forfeiting the potential riches to come.  Once everyone has made their decision, the Captain has to deal with the challenges by playing equipment cards.  If the Captain is successful, the airship moves on to the next city where a new captain is identified who rolls the dice and so on.  If the Captain is unable to deal with the challenges they face, the airship crashes, returning to the first city and none of the passengers on board get any treasure.  Those passengers who left the ship then get back on board for the start of the new journey.  When one  player has a total of fifty points the game ends.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the group added the A Little Help expansion which adds cards that players can use to help out the Captain.  There are a few extra cards like The Bandit and The Mooring Line as well, which players who are not on the ship can use to make life harder for those trying to get to the next city.  The group also added the lifeboat from the A Little Initiative expansion, which enables players to continue on their journey alone.  One of the key parts of Celestia is hand management as cards are scarce.  Players start with a hand of cards, six cards in a four or more player game and only get to draw a card when the journey ends, either due to a crash or arriving at the ninth city.  With the inclusion of the expansion cards, there seemed to be quite a bit to remember when learning the rules, but as ever, once underway the game flowed and the rules became clearer. Even so there was still a lot of double checking of which cards could be used when. Black and Purple had both played the game before and knew how quickly things could get difficult.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

So Black and Purple cashed in their travel tickets early in the first round and hopped off the airship quite early on, leaving everyone else wondering if they were missing something as they sailed onwards. In contrast, Green and his parents (who had not played before) stayed on board and as a result took a lot of points.  This all seemed a little too easy and on rechecking the rules it became apparent that something was wrong. Players had been drawing cards after arriving at each city as the Captain changed rather than after it crashed, which meant everyone was awash with cards.  From then on the group played correctly, but the damage had already been done.  The balance of cards had been destroyed, and Green and his mum had an unassailable lead.  Green came out he victor with some canny play that allowed him to hop on and off the airship, but it was a hollow victory as those first twenty-five points were not fairly won.  The game definitely deserves another try though as it is a clever and fun game when played correctly.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

While the airship was being filled, Blue, Mulberry and Burgundy debated what they were going to play.  Orléans was very tempting, but as Celestia was supposed to be relatively quick, the trio decided to play the shorter Tokaido instead.  This is a simple, but very clever game where players are traveling the East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo), meeting people, tasting fine food, collecting beautiful items, discovering great panoramas, and visiting temples and wild places.  The winner is the player who discovers the most interesting and varied things and is the most initiated traveler.  The really clever part of the game is the turn order, because the player at the back goes first.  Although this is an unusual mechanism, it is not unique and is also seen in Glen More, an out of print game that is getting a face-lift and reprint this year as Glen More II: Chronicles.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that each location on the road can only be occupied by one player.  Players only ever move forward and the player at the back has a free choice of which empty location they move to.  They can choose to stop at the first empty location which means they will be able to maximise the number of locations they can visit, or they can choose to skip a few locations potentially gifting these to their opponents, but ensuring they stop at the locations they will profit most from.  Thus the game is all about optimising movement, compromising visiting the best locations, visiting the most locations and preventing opponents visiting the locations they want by getting there first.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts with a character card which gives them a different start condition and a special power.  Burgundy was positioned at the front playing Yoshiyasu enabling him to draw a second card whenever he encounters someone, and choose which one to keep Encounter cards give a one-off bonus, so being able to choose instead of relying on random draw is a nice advantage.  Mulberry started in second position on the track and as Kinko, was able to pay one Yen less for her food at mealtime.  There are several stops for food along the way and money is always scarce so anything that saves money is always good.  Blue began at the back (and therefore started), playing Sasayakko who gets the cheapest souvenir for free whenever she buys two or more when visiting the Village.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

In this game, it is essential that players make the most of their special powers, so Blue visited as many Villages as she could, collecting as many sets of souvenirs as she could.  To do this though, she need lots of money and money is not easy to come by.  Similarly, Burgundy stopped to make as many encounters as he could and coupled this with visiting the Hot Springs.  Hot Springs simply give a two or three point card drawn at random from a deck, with the three point cards depicting monkeys playing in the spring.  Somehow, every time Burgundy drew a Hot Spring card, it featured monkeys, while Blue and Mulberry received no monkey-love; after his fifth card it was something they really began to resent.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was the first to score points and Burgundy wasn’t far behind.  Blue was slowest off the mark, but eventually caught up and overtook the others, romping into the lead, helped by Burgundy who persisted in moving Blue’s token when he scored points.  That wasn’t the full story, however.  At the end of the game points are awarded to the players with the most Hot Spring cards, the most Encounter cards, the most Souvenirs, for donating money at the Temples, and for the player who spent the most on food.  With Burgundy taking the vast majority of these points, he caught up and, after several recounts, both Blue and Burgundy finished on eighty-one points with Mulberry not far behind.  With more achievement cards, Burgundy was the clear winner, but he’d tried to be generous with his points throughout the game and insisted on sharing victory with Blue (to go with the lack of sleep they shared).

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Celestia was still going and wasn’t looking like it was going to be finished very soon, so Blue,  Burgundy and Mulberry decided to try something else.  After a bit of discussion, they opted for a new game by the producers of the Spiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis winner, Azul, that had been brought back from Essen late last year.  Blue had played Reef with Pink, Black and Purple after The Gallerist during a recent “Monster Games” session, but otherwise it hadn’t made it to the table.  It isn’t a complex game though and is very quick to teach:  on their turn, players can either take a card from the pool of face up cards, or play a card, adding the pieces of coral depicted in the top half to their reef and then scoring the pattern shown in the bottom half of the card.

Reef
– Image by boardGOATS

The reefs are a three by four grid and the pieces of coral can be played anywhere and can stack up to a maximum height of four.  Scoring the patterns is as viewed from above, and each one can be scored several times with different patterns worth different numbers of points.  This means there are two approaches to the game, scoring low but frequently, or building to one large score.  Mulberry opted for the first approach and facilitated this with single colour piles of coral.  Blue tried the alternative strategy, building to a large twenty-plus point score, while Burgundy tried a mixture.  As a result, Mulberry quickly built up a healthy lead, and the question was whether the others would catch her or not.  It was close, very close, with just four points covering all three players.  This time though, little and often was the winner, and Mulberry finished with forty-two points, one more than Burgundy.

Reef
– Image by boardGOATS

Celestia was still going, so Mulberry stayed to play one last game, San Juan.  This is an old game from the Alea Small Box Series that is sometimes referred to as the card game of Puerto Rico.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player chooses a role, Builder, Producer, Trader, Prospector, Councillor and then everyone takes it in turn to carry out the associated action.  The person who chose the action gets to use the privilege of the role (pay one less for building, trade or produce one extra item etc.).  One of the clever things about the game is that cards have multiple purposes, similar to Bohnanza where cards can be money or beans.  In San Juan, each card can be played onto the table as a building, but when in hand they can be used as payment, and during the game they can be used as produce as well.  Each card has a value when built and there are a small number of special buildings whose score depends on the other buildings in play.  The game ends when a player builds their twelfth building.

San Juan
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was tired and really struggled, so Blue and Burgundy tried to help explain what she could do, certain she’d get the hang of it.  They stressed the importance of not getting left behind on the building, a message Mulberry took to heart, building at every opportunity.  Blue made life difficult for everyone though, building a Guardhouse reducing everyone else’s hand limit to six.  Burgundy saw one of the valuable six point plus violet building cards early in the game, but that was it, so he ended up building lots of production facilities.  Blue on the other hand built lots of violet buildings and with it a City Hall giving her one point per violet building.  In the meantime, Mulberry kept building so when Blue failed to spot she had eleven buildings she accidentally triggered the final round.  It was very, very tight, but somehow, Blue just kept her nose in front finishing with twenty-three points, one more than Burgundy and two more than Mulberry.

San Juan
– Image by boardGOATS

In the meantime, Celestia had finally come to an end.  With Green and his parents wanting to leave and Pine finally putting in an appearance after a long day bird watching in the West Country, the group we went for a very short game, one about birds: Pick Picknic.  This game combines simultaneous card selection with bluffing and a slice of luck.  The idea is that there are six farm  yards of different colours, if someone plays the only chicken card of a given colour, they get all the grain at that coloured farm.  If multiple players go for the same coloured yard, then players can either agree to share the corn in any way that is mutually acceptable or roll the die for all of it.  Foxes don’t eat corn, however, they only eat chickens, so if someone plays a fox card, they will eat any chicken cards of that colour.  This time there seemed to be a lot of hungry foxes, and lots of fighting birds.

– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

These were accompanied by the usual exclamations as people realised that their attempt to grab a pile of corn was stymied by someone else’s decision.  It was a close game, with four players within four points of each other.  It was tight at the front too with just a handful of points between first and second place, but it was Purple who just edged Green’s father into second place.  With that over Family Green headed off and, as Burgundy was still occupied playing San Juan, everyone else felt it was a good opportunity to play Splendor as someone else would have a chance to win.  Splendor is a game we’ve played a lot and it is ideal for late in the evening when everyone is tired because it doesn’t need too much thought.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Splendor is very simple:  players take it in turns to take gems (chips) or use the gems to buy cards from the display.  Cards can be used to buy other cards, but some of the cards also give points, and collecting certain combinations of cards allows players to claim a Noble tile giving more points.  Essentially, it is a race to fifteen points, though as players finish the round (so everyone gets the same number of turns), it is the player with the most points who wins.  This time the game started with everyone evenly matched.  There was a lot of overlap in the colours required to claim Nobles tiles, so they were claimed at much the same time.  Then Black took the lead and although both Purple and Pine were close to adding to their respective totals, Black’s score of nineteen was unassailable.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Close Games are Good Games.

5th February 2019

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Chess
– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

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

Go
– Original image by Tomasz_Mikolajczyk on pixabay.com

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

Go
– Original image by Przemek Pietrak on flickr.com

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

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22nd January 2019

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

    Cities of Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

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

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

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

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

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

8th January 2019

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Luxor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

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