Tag Archives: Agricola

31st October 2017

The evening began with Blue handing out Essen orders to Red (Sole Mio!, a relative of Mamma Mia!), Green (Thunderbirds and all the expansions), and Burgundy (lots of Concordia and Orléans bits).   Just to make sure Ivory and Pine didn’t feel left out, she had also brought a whole flock of boardGOATS to pass round – all suitably decorated.  There was a lot of discussion of the games at Essen, but Spiel has grown so much over the last few years that it was impossible to see everything as was evident when Green trotted out the fruits of his research and what was “hot”.  Altiplano, Clans of Caledonia, Photosynthesis, Gaia Project, Charterstone, and Noria were all completely missed for various reasons, but Pink and Blue had managed to look at Agra, Meeple Circus, and Kepler-3042 and had picked up copies of Keyper, Queendomino, Mini Park, Montana, Captain Sonar and Azul (Blue’s tip for Spiel des Jahres next year) among other things, all of which will no doubt appear over the coming weeks.

A Flock of boardGOATS
– Image by boardGOATS

With the chit-chat and pizzas over, it was definitely time to play something.  With six of us, it was almost certainly two games which was fortunate as Green wasn’t keen on anything Halloween themed, which ruled out the “Feature Game”, Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game. That wasn’t a problem though, as Pine was keen to play and everyone else was happy to be a third.  In the end, it was Blue that joined them as she hadn’t played it before.  With two novices, that meant a full explanation of the rules.  Dead of Winter is a semi-cooperative game.  There are a number of things that make it different from other, older cooperative games like Pandemic.  For example, there is a group objective, but each player also has a secret, personal objective:  players must achieve both to win.  There is also the addition of a traitor, who’s objectives are counter to everyone else.  Both Pandemic and Shadows Over Camelot have this mechanism integrated as part of an expansion, and in Dead of Winter, this is also optional, or (like another of our favourites, Saboteur) can be played in such a way that there may, or may not be a traitor present.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Perhaps more significantly than these though, is the nature of the ticking clock.  In Pandemic there is a deck of cards that which dictate what happens and, ultimately, how long the game is going to go on for as the game ends if they run out.  The situation is similar in the other Matt Leacock games like Forbidden Island and its sequel, Forbidden Desert.  In contrast, Dead of Winter, is played over a set number of rounds.  There is still a deck, the “Crisis deck”, but this sets the tone of the round and provides the “team” with a task that must be completed before the end of the round otherwise nasty things happen.  In general, the Crisis sets a tithe of cards that must be forfeit by the “team” during the round.   Of course, as in real life, the “team” consists of people who have different agendas, and one who may be out to sabotage the colony…

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

So, at the start of the round, a card is drawn from the Crisis deck and then everyone rolls their dice and the first player takes their turn.  This begins with another player drawing a card from the Crossroads deck.  This player is supposed to read only the first line, unless the condition is fulfilled in which case they read the rest of the card.  These are quite clever, as they end with two options—the eponymous “Crossroads”. The text on these cards adds a lot of atmosphere as well as adding to the sense of impending doom as sometimes the card might be activated by something the active player does.  Each player starts with two Survivors and the active player has one die per character and an extra one.  The Survivors have special abilities and the dice are “spent” by them carrying out actions.  For example, a player could attack a zombie which costs one die, but the value of the die needed will depend on the character:  James Meyers who is a bit of a wuss, is rubbish at fighting and needs a six, on the other hand Thomas Heart is a violent sort who loves a good brawl and anything at all will do.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

As well as attack a zombie, there are a number of other actions that require a die, including search a location, clean the waste, and build a barricade.  Searching is the only way players can get Item cards.  Around the central game board, there are a number of special locations and each one of these has a pile of Item cards.  The distribution of the different types vary and depend on the location, for example, weapons are unlikely to be found a the hospital, but medicine is quite prevalent.  Like attacking zombies, ability to search depends on the different characters and some Survivors have a special ability which means they are good at searching in a particular location.  In contrast, anyone can build a barricade or take out the bins, so these actions can be carried out by anyone with any dice, as long as they are in the right place.  In addition to actions that require a die, players can also play a card, help deal with the crisis, move a Survivor, turn food cards into food tokens, request cards from other players, hand cards to other players or initiate a vote to exile someone.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

While there are lots of things players can do, there are also hazards along the way.  For example, moving from one location to another is risky, so the Survivor must roll to see what damage the exposure did.  It may be that they were well wrapped up and nothing happened, but it is also possible that they were wounded in the attempt, or caught frostbite which is nasty because the effect progresses in later rounds.  Worst, of course, is getting bitten because the Survivor dies straight away and the effect spreads to other Survivors at the same location (who also have to roll the exposure dice).  Once every player has taken their turn, the zombies swarm, arriving at each location that where there are Survivors, with extras attracted by noise.  If a location gets overrun by zombies, they start killing Survivors.  Every time a Survivor dies, they Colony’s moral drops.  The game ends moral gets to zero, the requisite number of rounds have been played or if the main objective has been completed.  Our main objective was simply to survive the five rounds we were to play.  Blue began with a serious lack of practical ability in David Garcia (accountant) and James Meyer (psychologist).  Fortunately that was made up for by Ivory and Pine who began with Thomas Heart (soldier), Andrew Evans (farmer), Janet Taylor (Nurse) and Edward White (chemist).

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image by BGG contributor The Innocent

Andrew Evans, Janet Taylor, Edward White and David Garcia all had special abilities when searching and Thomas Heart was excellent fighting off zombies, while James Meyer just had an especially uncool anorak.  We started well and for the first couple of rounds, the zombies were only faintly annoying and the biggest issue was fulfilling the requirements of the Crisis Cards.  Early on, Ivory armed Andrew Evans with a rifle which enabled him to take out any one of the undead, something that proved very handy and made up for the enormous amount of noise Andrew Evans had been making during searching.  During the second round, Blue gained an extra couple of characters (Buddy Davis and Harman Brooks), which gave her extra dice and more special abilities she could use, but the downside was they came with a load of extra helpless survivors (folk that are a bit of a dead-weight and just need a lot of feeding).  It seemed like a gamble, but in the third round, Ivory “found” Sophie Robinson (a pilot) as well.   By the end of the third round, it was clear the message had got out to the zombie hoards and they were coming to get us (possibly due to the racket that Ivory had been making with Andrew).

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The fourth round was tight especially as everyone’s attention began to turn to their secondary goals.  The otherwise fairly useless James Meyer suddenly found himself some courage and a baseball bat and set about the un-dead with great gusto.  Pine decided that he really, really wanted that extra character that he’d been persuaded out of earlier in the game and acquired Alexis Grey, a librarian with an ability to search the library efficiently.  Going into the final round, we had to be a little careful in a couple of areas and moral was low, but it was clear that unless one of us turned out to be a traitor, the game was won.  And so it turned out: there was no traitor and it was just a question of who had succeeded in their secondary goal.  At the start of the game, Pine had been highly conflicted, needing medicine for Edward White’s special power, but also having a goal of needing to finish with two at the end of the game.  Since he started his final turn with no medicine, he thought the boat had sailed, but with his very last action, he happened to draw two medicine cards to satisfy his second objective.  Ivory also needed two medicine cards for his goal and had managed to hoard these throughout the game.  Blue’s challenge was more difficult as she needed the colony to have lost three members to the hoards.  Despite her best efforts to kill off some of her own Survivors, Pine and Ivory had generously helped keep them alive, so she failed dismally, the only one not to complete both victory requirements.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Although we had all enjoyed the game, it was unfortunate that there wasn’t a traitor as the lack of an enemy within meant it felt a bit like communal puzzle solving.  It was also unfortunate, that so very few of the Crossroads Cards actually had an effect as they mainly affected characters we weren’t playing with.  This wasn’t helped by our habit of forgetting to draw them and/or reading too much of the card.  We felt the Crossroads Cards would have been more interesting with extra players, but it was already a long game and we felt the down-time would really drag with more.  Certainly, some turns, especially as Blue and Ivory acquired additional Survivors, seemed to take an unbelievably long time already.  Certainly four would probably be the maximum we would want to play with, though we would also increase the likely-hood of a traitor as we felt we’d missed out on half the fun.  In conclusion, Red and Burgundy’s comment at the start now made sense, “It’s a good game, but if there’s something else more interesting about…”

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor zombiegod

Meanwhile, on the next table, Green and Burgundy were teaching Red how to play Puerto Rico.  This is a much older game which was the highest rated game for many years and is still well regarded.  Red had never played it and it was a very long time since Burgundy or Green had played it as well, so they were keen to see how it held up against some of the more modern games.  In Puerto Rico, players are plantation owners in seventeenth century Puerto Rico growing up to five different kind of crops: corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Each plantation owner must try to run their business more efficiently than their competitors. First they must grow their crops then they must store them efficiently. Finally, players must sell their crops at the right time or ship their goods back to Europe for maximum benefit. In order to do this most effectively, the plantation owners must make optimal use of the arriving colonists and develop the capital city, San Juan, building useful amenities.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The flow of the game is quite straight-forward in that on their turn, the active player chooses a “role” then everyone takes it in turns to carry out the action associated with that role. Each role has a “privilege” which the active player gets which gives them a little bonus (as well as the opportunity to take the action first. Once everyone has chosen a role, the remaining role cards are “improved” by the addition of money, the used role cards are returned to the pool and the start player (The Governor) moves one player to the left before the new Governor starts the next round. The aim of the game is to get victory points which are awarded for buildings and for shipping goods. However, to build, players need money, and before they can ship goods, players need to be able to produce the goods with a plantation (and where necessary process them in the appropriate building).

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Each building/plantation has a special bonus, but for a player to receive this, the building needs to be occupied by a “colonist”. All these activities are carried out through the role cards. For example, the Builder enables players to construct a building, but the player who chooses the role gets the privilege of paying one doubloon less than they would have done otherwise. Similarly, the Craftsman is used to produce, but the privilege allows the player who chose the role to produce one extra item (of those they had already been able to produce). Other roles include the Captain (enables players to ship goods); the Trader (allows players to sell goods for money); the Settler (players can take a plantation tile and add it to their island); the Mayor (the ship of “Colonists” arrives and they are divided among the players), and the Prospector (everyone does nothing except the person with the privilege who takes a doubloon from the bank).  The game ends when either, one player has built their twelfth building or the supply of victory points or colonists has been exhausted.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The first few rounds were a little tentative. Green started with the Governor (through random selection) and chose the build action first. Burgundy chose Mayor using his extra citizen to occupy both indigo plantation and production building. Red needed a little help to suggest that she place her citizen on her Corn rather than her small market since this would enable her to produce something, whereas in the market she would have nothing to sell. So inevitably Red then chose craftsman. This gave Red a two corn, Burgundy an Indigo and Green nothing as he only had indigo and one citizen.  From there, the game progressed as you might expect, with each player following a different strategy.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Green relied on his indigo resources and built a Small Market and an Office (so he could sell multiples of the same type of goods), dug a couple of quarries, and clearly went for a money and buildings strategy. When he started losing out in the Captain (shipping) phase he was able to very quickly buy a Wharf and always managed to ship something and thus stay in the running on victory points. He was the first to buy a big building of course and chose the one which gave him extra points for production buildings believing he could fairly easily add to his already reasonable tally. Burgundy went for a diversified portfolio of goods and as able to add a factory building which started to really rake in the money with four different types of goods. He was only missing corn, which he easily added to make an extra five doubloons every time craftsman came up. As a result he was not far behind Green at buying a large building.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Since he had been shipping regularly and gathering victory points Burgundy took the building that would give him an extra point for every four points he had, however about half way through the game he began to struggle with his shipping. Red had begun to regularly take Captain, which meant that he was last to load and would often miss out being able to load all his goods—without any kind of warehouse was regularly losing all his stock of two or three goods each time.  Eventually, he had enough of this and decided to do something about it.  The choice was between a Wharf and a Harbour:  increasing his victory point income every time he shipped, or gain an extra ship he could always ship to.  It was a tough choice, but in the end he chose Wharf only to then discover he did not have quite as much money as he thought and so had to settle for Harbour after all.  This nearly proved his undoing in the end, as with two or three more captain actions happening he still found himself unable to ship everything, losing several goods in the process—Red and Green made quite sure of that!!

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Red’s game was a little more tentative, as she found her feet, trying to figure out how the game all hung together. She struggled a bit with getting the buildings and plantations all occupied in the right way to produce what she needed. She ended up with a lot of Sugar, but her small warehouse meant that early on she did not have to discard it and was able to make a large shipment later on, locking out Burgundy, the other Sugar producer in the game.  In the end she ended up with more citizens that she had spaces and so for a while had an occupied Indigo Production building but no Indigo Plantation. It seemed it didn’t really matter though, as she had a good thing going on with the Captaincy, shipping large amounts of Sugar regularly giving her a regular supply of points. With everything else that was going on, Red didn’t get round to buying a large building.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game neared conclusion, we thought we would run out of Citizens first, but selection of the Mayor slowed and Captains became a more regular feature so the victory points dwindled fast. Green was worried that he might not get his large building occupied before the victory points ran out, so when he became Governor for the last time, he chose the Mayor in an effort to extend the game, much to Red’s chagrin.  She claimed that it was allowing Burgundy to get his large building occupied and thus gain more points, which is true, but it helped Green too.  In the end it was Red’s Captaincy that ended what proved to be an incredibly close game; Puerto Rico is not a game we usually think of as being so well balanced that the scores are always close. The hidden victory points and various other ways to gain points tend to keep players guessing right til to the end and it is usually possible for one player to quickly build an efficient engine which wipes the floor with everyone else.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

That wasn’t the case this time.  Although the actual game play is quite simple, Puerto Rico can be a challenging the first time as it is hard to really work out the best way to play, and things only become clear after two or three rounds.  So Red did really well, not only to keep pace with two experienced players, but especially to take second place against two players, scoring fifty points.  Green’s lack of resources to ship, even with his wharf, let him down and it was Burgundy, who scraped a win with fifty-three points.  While packing up, there was a lot of discussion about the game:  did Green really hand Burgundy victory by choosing that Mayor? We concluded probably not, as if Burgundy would have chosen it if Green hadn’t.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico used to be the gamers’ game of games for quite a few years, until Agricola elbowed its way to the top. Since then that top spot has been fiercely fought for and, as in Formula 1, (where everyone now talks about Schumacher, Vettel and Hamilton), everyone seems to have forgotten poor old Juan Manuel Fangio, the unsurpassed master for decades. Once in a while it’s good to bring out the old tapes and watch the old master at work though, and so it is with Puerto Rico.  After so many years it was interesting to see how it stacked up against the newest masters of the gaming world.  We concluded that it still competes very well: it has variety and simplicity at its heart, great interaction and just enough complexity to make it a challenge without needing a PhD just to understand the rules.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Dead of Winter was still going and it sounded like there was another half an hour play, which meant there time for another, shorter game, and the group settled on Coloretto. Everyone knew it quite well it was a quick start.  On their turn the active player either draws a coloured chameleon card and places it on a “truck” or, they take a truck and its chameleons (which means they’re out for the rest of the round). The idea is that players are collecting sets of cards, but only three will yield positive points, with the rest scoring negatively.  There are some “special” cards as well, including multicoloured joker chameleons and “+2” cards which give an extra two points at the end of the game.  So, everyone was shocked when  a “+3” came out of the pile came.  Clearly there were some expansion cards in the deck and nobody had noticed despite having played with it several times before.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The first round was also remarkable in that first a yellow card was pulled, then a purple (placed on a different pile), then another yellow, which was placed on the purple pile, then a purple, which was placed on the yellow pile, to make two identical piles. So, what were the colours of the next two cards? Yes, yellow and purple! Burgundy and Red bailed at this point but Green decided to see where if he could get a second yellow or purple and ended up with a red instead giving him three singletons.  From there, the game progressed in the usual way. Green collected more new colours each with only one card, but that meant he had a wide choice to specialise in. Eventually he chose green as his primary colour, which the others found difficult to prevent him from getting. Burgundy was trying to keep his number of colours down, concentrating on just brown and yellow, but Red and Green kept ganging up on him to make sure he had to take something else very time.  To get round this, he ended up taking single cards several times, but that meant he didn’t get as many cards as he might otherwise have collected.  Red was the lucky one who took the rainbow joker and otherwise went for blues and purples.  She was forced to collect too many other colours though.  In the end, it was again Burgundy who managed to eek out the best score, despite Red and Green’s combined best efforts.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor SergioMR

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes winning is impossible, even with teamwork.

2nd May 2017

With the inevitable pizzas mostly dealt with, we started the evening with one of Red’s “silly little games from Germany”.  Tarantel Tango (aka Tarantula Tango) is a daft little “get rid of your cards” game with the addition of animal noises.  The idea is that each player starts with a deck of face down cards which will be placed face up in one of five piles located around a central pentagon.  On their turn, the active player first makes a noise in response to the animal and number of spiders on the previous player’s card before placing their own card in a location dictated by the number of animals on the previous player’s card. Thus if a player’s card depicts one donkey and a spider the next player says, “Eee-ore” and places their card on the top of the next pile.  If the card had two donkeys, the card would be placed on the next pile but one, on the other hand, if there were two spiders, the player would have to make a double animal noise, “Eee-ore, Eee-ore!”

Tarantel Tango
– Image by boardGOATS

Simple enough, but things were confused by the fact that the animal art was like something from a Tim Burton Film, so it was easy to confuse them.  Also, according to the rules, a cow says “Moo-moo” (not “Moo”), which means with two spiders the active player must say, “Moo-moo moo-moo” – something that it is easy to forget when a noise must be made and a card played in less than two seconds, under the pressure of everyone else’s gaze.  Worse, some cards have no spiders at all which means the player must remain mute.  The penalty for failing to make the correct noise or put the card in the right place is to pick up all the cards on the table.  A similar penalty awaits when a Tarantula Card is played – everyone must slap their hand on the table and woe-betide the player who is last…

Tarantel Tango
– Image by boardGOATS

Once Red had roped Pine and Ivory into her madness, they were joined by Pink and Blue who read the rules  out.  Black’s comment from the next table was that it would take ages, but neither he nor Purple could be persuaded to join in, so with Burgundy still finishing his pizza everyone else started, what they thought would be a quick bit of fun.  It seemed like ages before the first person had to pick up cards and before long it looked like Pink had it in the bag with just three cards left.  Unfortunately, the stress of being so close meant he inevitably tripped over his words and gathered a large pile of cards as a consequence.  Ivory was next and managed to reduce his hand to just one card before making his mistake.  From here everyone took it in turns to reduce their stack to small handful of cards, but fail to actually get rid of the final few, by which time Purple was in such fits of laughter she was practically soiling the furniture.  It had been a lot of fun, especially at the start, but we were all quite pleased when we could finally move on to something else, so there was relief all round when Pine finally managed to get rid of his last card successfully.

Tarantel Tango
– Image by boardGOATS

With the gratuitous silliness over, we split into two groups, the first of which consisted entirely of people who hadn’t eaten any pizza and fancied making up for it with the pizza based “Feature GameMamma Mia!.  This is an unusual little card game designed by Uwe Rosenberg of Bohnanza fame (as well as designer of games like Agricola, Le Havre and the more recent Cottage Garden).  Everyone in the group likes Bohnanza, but Red is especially fond of it and was particularly keen to give this one a go.  Uwe Rosenberg has a liking for unusual mechanisms in his card games and Mamma Mia! is no exception.  The idea is that players are trying to fulfill pizza orders by first putting toppings in the oven and then sneaking their order cards in on top before another player does the same and claims the toppings for their order.  So, each player has a deck of personal order cards and a random hand of toppings.  On their turn, each player must place at least one topping card in the oven pile (all the same type) and may follow it with an order card if they choose.

Mamma Mia!
– Image by boardGOATS

All cards are placed face down so players have to try to remember what cards have been played.  Once a player has placed cards in the oven, they draw back up to the hand limit of seven, but the catch is that cards can only be drawn from either the ingredients pile or their own personal order pile.  This is very clever because players have a hand limit of seven and this is something that needs to be handled with care: order cards are needed to give a target to aim for, but too many and there isn’t enough space to hold enough ingredients to build sets.  Just to add to the challenge, we included the Double Ingredients mini expansion which adds a small number of cards which contribute to toppings instead of one.  Black and Purple had played the game before, but it was completely new to Pine and Red and it took a little while for them to get their heads round it.

Mamma Mia!
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine (who’s special ingredient was chili) cleared himself out in the first round taking an order for “Pizza Bombastica” (with at least fifteen toppings) and struggled to get back into the game.  Black (special ingredient pepperoni) on the other hand failed to place orders for any pizza in the first two rounds, instead, as Pine pointed out, “Saved himself to make ‘Quality’ pizza!”  Meanwhile, Red (with mushroom as her special ingredient) was very confused and was struggling to understand what was going on.  This was a feeling that wasn’t helped when Pine requested a “Pineapply-looking-olive” in the final round.  Despite her evident confusion, Red was definitely proving to be the “Queen of Pizza”, a title that also earned her accusations of “card counting” (something she might have tried had she understood what was going on).  In the final accounting, Red finished with seven orders, three more than Purple who had played a quiet, but very effective game making good use of her special ingredient (olives).

Mamma Mia!
– Image by boardGOATS

While the pizzaioli were busy making pizza, the other group (consisting predominantly of pizza eaters) were settling into a game of Last Will.  This is a game we’ve played before, but that was nearly two years ago, so it required a recap of the rules.  Last Will is basically the boardgame equivalent of the 1985 film “Brewster’s Millions”.  The story goes that in his last will, a rich gentleman stated that all of his millions would go to the nephew who could enjoy money the most.  In order to find out who that would be, each player starts with a large amount of money, in this case £70, and whoever spends it first and declares bankruptcy is the rightful heir, and therefore the winner.  The game is played over a maximum of seven rounds each comprising three phases. First, starting with the start player, everyone chooses the characteristics of their turn for the coming round from a fixed list by taking it in turns to place their planner on the planning board. This dictates the number of cards they will get at the start of the round, the number of “Errand Boys” they will be able to place, the number of Actions they will get and where they will go in the turn order.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor PaulGrogan

Inevitably, this is a compromise, so choosing to go first when placing Errand Boys, might guarantee the action of choice, but will only give one card at the start of the round and crucially, only one Action.  On the other hand, choosing to sacrifice position in the turn order could give three or four Actions.  Since all but two cards are discarded at the end of the round and Actions must be used or lost, this decision is critical.  Actions are important, but so are Errand Boys as they allow players to control the cards they are drawing as well as manipulate the housing market and increase the space on their player board.  The heart of the game is the cards, however, which are played in three different ways:  as a one off (white bordered cards); on a player’s board where they can be used multiple times (black bordered cards) or as a modifier (slate bordered cards) which enable players to spend more when black or white bordered cards.  Thus, White bordered “Event Cards” cost a combination of money and Actions to play, but once played, are discarded. In contrast, Black bordered cards cost at least one Action to play, and occupy space on the player’s board, but are kept and can be activated once in each round.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Black bordered cards come in three different types: “Expenses” which allow players to spend money; “Helpers” which additionally allow give players some sort of permanent bonus, and “Properties” which are by far the most complex cards in the game.  Properties are an excellent way of spending money as they are bought for a given amount and will either depreciate every round, or will require maintenance which can be expensive. Unfortunately, players cannot declare bankruptcy if they have property and must sell them.  This is where the property market comes in:  one of the possible errands is to adjust the property market, so if a property is bought when the market is high and sold when it is low, this is another possible avenue for losing money.  At the end of the round, everyone reduces their hand to just two cards and loses any left-over actions, which puts players under a lot of pressure as it makes it very hard to plan.  So the game is an unusual mixture of timing, building card combinations, strategy and tactics.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bswihart

Burgundy went first as he was the last person to pay for something – he paid for his pizza while everyone else had put their purchases on a tab.  The random draw meant everyone started with £120 (in poker chips), making for a slightly  longer game. Only Ivory hadn’t played it before, but it was such a long time since Blue, Pink and Burgundy it was only a vague memory, and none of them felt they had ever really fully understood the game.  Inevitably therefore, there was plenty of moaning and groaning from Burgundy and a lot of puzzled expressions from Pink.  Accusations of “winning moves” were aimed at Blue (accompanied by appropriate denials) when she was the first to take her dog and a chef on a Boat Trip and then bought herself a small mansion.  Property is the key, as it is expensive to buy and either costs to maintain or depreciates, however, it must be sold before a player can go bankrupt.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Maintenance costs or depreciation alone are not sufficient to ensure a player spends enough to win, so players need to find a away to make their properties cost more.  Blue first added a Steward (who enabled her to carryout maintenance on a property without needing an action) and then an Estate Agent to her portfolio.  This latter was particularly useful as it enabled her to over pay for property by £2 when buying and sell for £2 below market value.  Meanwhile, Ivory had bought a couple of valuable farms to which he added animals, then he maximised his outgoings by adding a Training Ground.  Not though want of trying, but Pink was the only one who failed to get a helper who would provide an extra action.  Instead, he had to make do with a two Hectic Days (which gave him extra actions) which he coupled with visits to the Ball.  The first of these was very effective, the second less so.  By this time he was beginning to run out of space on his player board, so Pink then decided to get an extension to his player board, but Ivory had other ideas and kept taking it first, much to Pink’s disgust.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

While all this was going on, Burgundy was muttering away and shaking his head ominously, quietly buying properties, and making reservations at restaurants with occasional trips to the theatre or trips on the river.  As the game entered its final stages it was becoming clear that it was Ivory who had really got to grips with the game though.  The extra messenger card came up and, as everyone had other things they wanted to do, he took it cheaply which gave him a little extra flexibility in his options.  Blue and Burgundy had began selling properties first, leaving them with a lot of cash to get rid of.  In contrast, although he had no money left, Ivory still had to sell his farms and dispose of the income before he could actually go bankrupt.  Despite Burgundy and Pink’s best efforts to get in his way though, Ivory just made it, finishing £1 in debt.  Nobody else could match that, with the Blue the closest with £16 credit.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor CellarDoor

Mamma Mia! finished long before Last Will, and the group were looking for something else to play.  Blue (from the next table) suggested they might like to try Indigo, which she described as “a bit like Tsuro but backwards”.  Tsuro is a simple “last man standing” game where players take it in turns to place a tile in front of their stone and move it along the path.  Indigo is also a game of moving stones, however, instead of trying to keep one stone on the board, players are trying to move different coloured stones off the board through their own “gates”.  There are other differences too, for example, the tiles are hexagonal rather than square and instead of choosing which tile to lay from a hand of three, tiles are drawn at random.  To make up for the random draw, players can place tiles anywhere they like, which enables players to try to build routes from their gates to stones, rather than the other way round.

Indigo
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the cleverest parts of the game is its semi-cooperative nature – with four, players share their each of the gates with one of the other players.  This introduces an interesting tension between working with other players while simultaneously competing with them.  So, as Purple commented, players that don’t work together get nothing.  Black, on the other hand, was quite taken with the pretty patterns the tiles made on the board.  It was quite a tight game throughout – since stones are stored secretly and have different values, it wasn’t easy to be certain who was in the lead.  In the event, the lead probably swapped several times, and the game finally finished in a tie between Black and Pine, both with ten points, with Red following on in third, three points behind.

Indigo
– Image by boardGOATS

Last Will was still underway, so the hunt resumed for another game, and Blue suggested Pueblo.  Although a slightly older game, this was a recent acquisition and Pink had met pine when he collected it from the village Post Office.  Although he hadn’t known precisely what it was at the time, the rattle had given away the contents as a boardgame.  Pueblo has a very robust rattle as it consists of lots of very solid plastic pieces.  It is one of those games that is quite different to anything else; Blue and Pink had played it quite a bit out in the garden over the weekend and thought the others might like to give it a go, especially as it was simple enough to play from the rules.

Pueblo
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player has a set of coloured pieces and a matching number of neutral pieces.  These are paired up to make a cube consisting of one coloured and one neutral piece.  On their turn, the active player places any unpaired pieces they may have on the grid shown on the board.  If they don’t have any unpaired pieces, then they break up a cube and choose which half to play.  Once they have placed a piece, the active player moves the Chieftain along the track around the edge of the board.  They can choose whether to move him one, two or three spaces, after which, he looks at the building along the grid lines and scores any coloured bricks he can see.  At the end of the game, the Chieftain makes one last trip round the board and the player with the lowest score at the end wins.

Pueblo
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was quite close, and everyone felt that the idea was great but that the game play was not as exciting as it sounded.  Unfortunately, everyone also suffered a bit from “Analysis Paralysis”, and as a result, the game felt like it dragged, a problem that was undoubtedly made worse playing with four than with two.  This is because with two there is just one opponent and the game becomes one of cat and mouse; with more players this tension is diluted.  As the game progressed, it seemed to drag more and more, so the final trip round the track was dispensed with leaving Pine the winner, just two points ahead of Purple.  With that over, and Last Will coming to an end, Pine, Purple and Black headed off for an early night leaving Red to watch over the final moves before it was time to for everyone else to head home too.

Pueblo
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Games that are a hit for some players are not guaranteed to work for others.

4th April 2017

As we we arrived, we were all a little thrown by the fact that we weren’t on our usual table.  We coped though (just about) and, while we waited for our food, inspired by Red’s “smiley sushi” top, we felt there was only one suitable game, Sushi Go!. This is one of the simplest, “purest” card-drafting games.  Card drafting is a mechanism that is the basis of a number of well-known and popular games including 7 Wonders and one of our favourites, Between Two Cities.  It is also a useful mechanism for evening out the vagaries of dealing in other games.  For example, a round of drafting is often added to the start of Agricola to ensure that nobody gets a particularly poor hand.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Basically, each player starts with a hand of cards, chooses one to keep and passes the rest onto their neighbour.  Everyone receives a new hand of cards, and again chooses one and passes the rest on.  This continues with the hands getting progressively smaller until all the cards have been chosen and there are no cards to pass on.  In Sushi Go!, players are collecting sets of cards with the different sets scoring points in different ways, for example, a player who collects a pair of Tempura Prawns gets five points at the end of the game.  In the first round Blue and Burgundy went for Sashimi – collecting three gives ten points; unfortunately there were only four in the round and both got two which failed to score.  We were playing with the Soy Sauce expansion, and Burgundy made up for his lack of Sashimi by taking the Soy bonus,  it was Pine who made a killing though taking the first round with a massive twenty-two points.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The second round was very confused pizza arriving and hands losing cards somehow.  Blue won the round with seventeen, but it was a much closer affair which left Pine in the driving seat going into the last round.  As they only score points at the end of the game and since the player with the fewest losing six points, everyone went for Puddings.  There were a lot in the round and Red managed to collect most of them, and the end of the game six point bonus with it.  It was a sizeable catch and with Pine in line for the penalty, it looked like Red might just have enough to snatch victory.  In the end, Pine shared the penalty with Burgundy, however, and that was just enough to give him the game, finishing three points ahead of Red.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

With food finished and our usual table now empty, we split into two groups with the first foursome moving back to our normal table to play the “Feature Game”, Viticulture.  This is a worker placement game where players take on the roles of beneficiaries in rustic, pre-modern Tuscany who have inherited meager vineyards. Each player starts with a few plots of land, an old crushpad, a tiny cellar, and three workers.  Using those workers and visitors, players can expand their vineyards by building structures, planting vines, and filling wine orders.  At first glance, Viticulture appears very complicated with lots of possible actions, but in practice it is a much simpler game than it looks.  Viticulture is broken down into years or rounds with each subdivided into seasons, each with a specific purpose.  In the first round, Spring, players choose the turn order for the rest of the year.  The start player picks first and can choose to go first and pick up a meager reward, or sacrifice position in the turn order for something more enticing, in the extreme case, going last and getting an extra worker.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Then, in the turn order decided in Spring, players take it in turn to choose an action and place a worker.  All the action takes place in Summer and Winter and it is up to the players how they divide their workers between the two.  Each action has three spaces, but only two are in use in the four player game.  The first player to take an action gets an additional bonus while the second allows the basic level action only.  Each player has a large worker, their “Grande”, which they can  use as a normal worker, or to carry out any action, even if both spaces are already occupied.  In Summer, players can add buildings to their estate; plant vines; show tourists round (to get money); collect vine cards, or play yellow Summer Visitor cards (which generally give a special action).  In contrast, in Winter, players can harvest grapes from their vines; make wine; collect wine contract cards; fulfill contracts (which is the main way to get points), or play blue Winter Visitor cards.  Sandwiched between Summer and Winter, is Autumn, where players get to take an extra Visitor card.  Game end is triggered when one player gets to twenty points.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We were very slow to start as only Ivory was familiar with the game.  Pine in particular felt out of his depth and moaned about how this was not his sort of game.  Despite this, Pine was the first to get points on the board and he retained his lead for more than half the game thanks to the Windmill that he built at the start.  This gave a him a point each time he planted vines and, since that is an essential part of the game he was collecting points from the start where everyone else was concentrating on trying to build up the framework of their vineyard.  As the game progressed, everyone else’s grapes began to mature yielding points and the chase began.  We were into the final quarter of the game before Blue, then Ivory and eventually Green caught Pine though.  Going into the final round it was clear it was going to be close as Ivory moved ahead of Green, Blue and Pine, and triggered the end game.  Blue just managed to keep up and it finished in a tie, with both Ivory and Blue on twenty-four, four points clear of Green.  Money is the tie breaker followed by left over wine, and since Blue had more of both she claimed the victory.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, at the other side of the room, Red, Purple, Black and Burgundy, had been playing Ulm.  This is a game Purple and Black picked up from Essen last year and has had a couple of outings since.  The game play in Ulm is simple enough.  It is played over ten rounds, during each of which players get one turn in which they can do three actions that help them to gain points.  Ultimately players are collecting cards, city coats of arms and descendants, all of which can give them points during the game or at the end. This, in combination with the position of their barge and the number of sparrow tokens owned give the end game score, and the player with highest score wins.  The novel part of the game is the Cathedral – a three by three grid of action tiles.  On their turn, the active player slides a new action tile, randomly drawn from the bag, from the outside into the grid sliding another tile out. That tile stays in its spot on the outside of the grid and no other player can use that row or column until the tile is removed. The three tiles left in that row or column (two old ones and the new one, just added), represent the active player’s three actions for their turn.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

The game play in Ulm is simple enough.  It is played over ten rounds, during each of which players get one turn in which they can do three actions that help them to gain points.  Ultimately players are collecting cards, city coats of arms and descendants, all of which can give them points during the game or at the end. This, in combination with the position of their barge and the number of sparrow tokens owned give the end game score, and the player with highest score wins.  The cathedral area is a three by three grid of action tiles.  On their turn, the active player slides a new action tile, randomly drawn from the bag, from the outside into the grid sliding another tile out. That tile stays in its spot on the outside of the grid and no other player can use that row or column until the tile is removed. The three tiles left in that row or column (two old ones and the new one, just added), represent the active player’s three actions for their turn.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, players get one random action (drawn from the bag) and choose the other two.  There are five different actions represented by tiles in different colours.  These are:  clear tiles on one of the four sides of the cathedral area (making more options playable), place a Seal, buy or play a card, move the player’s barge, or take money.  Points are scored during the game through Seals and Coats of Arms, and at the end of the game for any sparrows and for the position of their barge on the Danube.  The largest source of points though is through cards.  These can be acquired by exchanging tiles for cards or as a byproduct of buying Seals.  When played, the active player can either discard the card for the card bonus which they can use during the game, or place the card in front of them, to obtain the points bonus at the end of the game.  A set of three different trade cards gets a bonus of three points while three the same gives a six point bonus.  Cathedral cards are the most profitable, however, with a complete set of three cathedral cards netting a massive eighteen points, but they can be correspondingly difficult to get.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Red and Burgundy were new to the game so there were some blank faces during the explanation and they were totally over-awed by the two epic rules books.  It wasn’t helped by the cluttered nature of the board, though everyone agreed that the Cathedral action grid movement is very clever.  The downside of it though is that it regularly locks up leaving difficult choices, especially for Red who seemed to come off worst.  Black commented that it was very busy with four and that meant the game was very different to the two-player experience.  Purple moved furthest at first and picked up some early shields to give her a good start.  Despite her difficulties with the action grid, Red also picked up quite a lot of shields and generated a huge number of sparrows gave her lots of bonuses and the lead during the game.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy is well known in the group for sighing and moaning about how badly the game is going, shortly before pulling a master stroke that gives him a massive number of points and usually, an unassailable lead.  This game was no exception as he produced a massive eighteen points halfway through by trading lots of goods.  As he pointed out later, however, it didn’t stop him from coming last this time though.  In the event, it was quite close between first and second.  Black who made his fortune as an art collector and scored the most from the his River position, demonstrated the value of experience, just pushing Red into second place.  Finishing first, the group enjoyed a long postmortem and chit-chat, before the goings on with Viticulture piqued their interest and they wandered over to spectate and enjoy the drama of the final round.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

With an early start the next day, Black, Purple, Ivory and Green then headed off, leaving Blue, Red and Pine to have yet another go at wresting Burgundy’s “Splendor Crown” from him.  Splendor is a really simple engine-building game that we’ve played a lot of late.  The idea is that players collect chips and use them to buy cards.  These cards can, in turn, be used to buy other cards and allow players to earn Nobles and victory points.  People often claim the game is trivial and highly luck dependent, but there has to be more to it otherwise Burgundy would not be as seemingly unbeatable as he is.  This time, there were relatively few ruby cards available in the early part of the game, and Red took those that were available.  Similarly, Blue took all the emerald cards she could as these were needed for the Nobles.  Given the lack of other cards, Burgundy just built his business on onyx and diamonds instead.  The paucity of other cards slowed his progress and prevented Burgundy from taking any Nobles.  It didn’t stop him taking yet another game though, finishing on fifteen, four ahead of Blue with eleven.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Board layout is very important – it can make an easy game appear complex or a difficult game seem straightforward.

21st February 2017

We started the evening setting up the card games, The Golden Sails and 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!, but as more players arrived and time was getting on, we abandoned them in favour of the “Feature Game”, Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen or Cliff Hanger).  This is a game that that arguably should be come the group’s signature game as it is very simple little trick taking card game all about goats.  As the rules were explained, Grey (on one of his rare, but much valued appearances), commented that it was like Blackjack (aka Pontoon or Vingt-et-Un) – i.e. play to a limit, but exceed that limit and you are bust.  The idea is that players choose a card from their hand and play it face up in front of them – the person who plays the highest card takes the trick and with it all the cards played in the round.  The player who plays the lowest card plays draws a Goat Island card.  These have two ends with different numbers on them, so the first “loser” takes a card and places the goat-meeple on one end, choosing which end will become part of Goat Island.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

The game continues with players playing cards and winning tricks, and the player who plays the lowest numbered card adding to Goat Island, choosing whether to add a large or small amount to the total.  At the end of the game, the total of the four cards that make up the island define the limit and players who exceed that value are out.  The catch is that players are not summing the face value of the cards (which go from one to fifty), instead, a little like 6 Nimmt!, they are counting goats head symbols which have little relation to the face value of the cards.  We played the game twice through, since we made a bit of a mess of it the first time.  After a long discussion about whether completed tricks should be placed face down or not, Red who led first misunderstood and thought the cards were played face down, so that screwed up her first turn and lumbered her with a pile of cards she didn’t want.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

This led to Grey’s comment that the game was poorly designed as once a player is bust their game is over.  In fact though, the game is so short that effective player elimination doesn’t matter that much and in any case, players who are out can still try to take as many others with them as possible.  After the first hand (taken by Grey), we gave it another try.  By this time, Blue had managed to find out who leads after the first trick so instead of passing the honour round the table, we played correctly and the winner led.  The second game went to Red, and was definitely more fun as we began to see what the aim of the game was and how to screw up other people.  We were just beginning to get the hang of it, but felt we should move on to something else now everyone had arrived.  It was genuinely very quick though, so we’ll probably play it again and it might be worth trying some of the variants too.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

With such a short “Feature Game” and everyone being far too polite, we spent a lot of time deciding what to play next.  Orleans, Terraforming Mars, Viticulture and Agricola were all on the table, but nobody wanted to commit in case something better came along, or perhaps because they genuinely didn’t really mind and were happy to fill in once those who did mind had made a choice. Eventually, Magenta said she would like to play Isle of Skye and several said they’d be happy to play that if others wanted to play something else.  Ivory on the other hand said he was quite happy to play Agricola (which had been brought with him in mind, then Green walked in, making things slightly more complicated as with nine players one game would have to be a five-player which might make it long.  In the end Red got fed up with people being indecisive and started to direct people:  first she made a three player game of Agricola, then she found two to join Magenta playing Isle of Skye which left Blue, Burgundy and Red to find something else to play, which ended up being Imhotep.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep is a very simple game that we’ve played a few times since is was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres last year.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions:  procure new stones; load stones on a boat; sail a boat to a monument; or play an action card.  Players can only store a maximum of five stones and when they procure stones they can collect a maximum of three.  Stones are loaded onto ships one at a time, but which of the five possible destinations the boats end up at and the order they are unloaded in is vital, so timing and planning is everything.  What makes it particularly tricky is that the best plans in the world can be crushed by opponents with one small action: when they take a boat to the “wrong place” or “at the wrong time”.  There are four ships and five building locations, so one doesn’t get visited and the round ends when all four boats have sailed.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The building locations are double sided so the game can be played with the less complex Side A, the slightly more confusing Side B, or a mixture of the two.  Red had struggled last time she had tried Imhotep since she ended up playing with two people who had tried it before and wanted to play with Side B without fully appreciating how much more complexity it adds.  This time, therefore, we stuck to the simpler Side A, but instead added the Stonemason’s Wager Mini Expansion to give it just a little extra interest.  This little promotional item allows players a one-off, extra option:  the chance to bet on which monument will have the most stones in it at the end of the game.  Otherwise the game is unchanged and there are six rounds in total, as usual, with points scored in different ways for the different buildings; the player with the most points at the end is declared the best builder in Egypt.

Imhotep: The Stonemason's Wager Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue and Burgundy started out visiting the Market picking up statues, but with both in the same market it was always going to be a struggle.  Meanwhile, Red stole an essentially insurmountable lead in the Obelisks.  Blue took a green card that would yield a point for every three stones in the Burial Chamber at the end of the game, so she tried to encourage boats to go there.  Unfortunately, because she also nearly picked up a significant score on the Burial Chamber, but Burgundy was first forced to obstruct her plans and then Red and Burgundy started sending boats to the Temple instead.  In general, it was quite a cagey game with everyone concentrating on not letting anyone take too many points rather than trying to make a killing themselves.  Going into the final scoring, it was all quite close.  Red took the points for the Stonemason’s Wager, and Burgundy took points for statues, but Blue had a lot of bonus points from a range of sources, giving her first place, ten points ahead of Burgundy in second.

– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep finished, but next game was not far behind, so Blue, Red and Burgundy played a couple of quick hands of Love Letter while they waited.  With its quick play, this micro-game is one of our go to fillers.  The idea is that each player has a single card in hand, and on their turn they draw a second and choose one of the two to play.  Each card has an action and a number, one to eight.  Players use the actions to try to deduce information about which cards others are holding and, in turn use that to eliminate them.  The winner is either the last player standing or the player with the highest ranking card at the end of the game.  In the first round, Blue was caught holding the Princess leaving Burgundy to take the round.  The second played out to the final card.  With just two possible cards left and the Princess still hiding, Red took a chance and played the Prince, forcing Blue to discard her hand.  This meant she had to pick up the set-aside card, which was, of course, the Princess, making it a two-way tie.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Magenta, Purple and Grey had been playing a game of Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres last year, and has proven to be quite popular with our group.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with the added feature of 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.  This time, with points available throughout for completed areas (lakes and mountains), this was a clear target, however, identifying a strategy and making it work are two different things.

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

For example, Purple was unlucky that she was unable to get any tiles with cows on roads until the final round, which meant she struggled to build a score early in the game.  Although this meant she picked up the bonus money for being at the back, she still struggled to get the tiles she wanted.  Similarly, Grey was unlucky in that he placed a tile that later became an real obstacle making it difficult for him to place tiles later and get points.  It was Magenta though who had been able to build an early lead, and kept it throughout picking up points every round.  A couple of lucky tile draws gave her good tiles that both Grey and Purple wanted making it a sellers market, and leaving Magenta with lots of cash to spend towards the end of the game.  Going into the final scoring, Magenta had a sizeable lead, but Grey had a large pile of cash which yielded a tidy eight points and very nearly gave him the game.  Magenta managed to fend him off though with the one point she took for her remaining seven coins, making the difference between first place and second.

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

With the games on the first two tables complete, Red, Magenta and Grey went home leaving Purple, Blue and Burgundy to play yet another in the long running campaign to beat Burgundy at Splendor.  This simple set collecting, engine builder has proved to be quite intractable.  Blue and Pine in particular have had several attempts to get the better of Burgundy, but so far he has just had the edge.  Sadly this this game was no exception, though the game was very, very tight. There was a shortage of Opals cards available, despite the presence of lots of cards needing them.  Emeralds were also quite scarce at the start, but Burgundy managed to build a substantial collection of Diamonds to keep the threat alive.  Blue thought she had finally got Burgundy trapped but in the final round Purple took a card and the replacement was a sapphire that Burgundy could take and gave him eighteen points, one more than Blue (who was last in the turn order).  Yet another very, very close game – we’ll get him in the end…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, all evening, Ivory, Black and Green had been engaged in an game of Agricola.  This had started out with an extensive effort to disentangle the cards for the base game from the myriad of expansions Blue had somehow crammed into the box.  Once this was sorted though, and the game was set up, a rules explanation was necessary as Ivory hadn’t played it before.  The archetypal worker placement game, players star out with a farming couple and a shack and during the game try to build up their farmstead, livestock and family, the winner being the player with the most successful farm. Actions available include things like upgrading the farmhouse, ploughing and sowing fields, enclosing areas, taking livestock, and, of course, procreating.  One of the clever parts of the game is that each round, an additional action become available, but the order of these is not known in advance.  The stress is provided by harvests that occur at intervals during the game and require players to have enough food to feed their family, or resort to begging (which yields negative points at the end of the game).

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, instead of playing the family game, we played the full version which includes occupation and improvement cards.  The challenge with this game is to use the cards effectively, but not to get carried away and try to force the strategy to use cards to its detriment.  Green started with occupations and used them to quickly fenced a large padock for sheep (building one gave him three extras).  He then ploughed and got three fields up and running before going back to enclosing pasture for cattle. Despite only having two family members, he struggled to have enough food until he eventually managed to nab a cartload of clay and used it to build a an oven, which proved invaluable at keeping hunger at bay.  Towards the end, he finally managed to develop his family and added a pig for a total of twenty-nine.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Black played a quiet game, also didn’t grow his family and farm developed only slowly too.  As he often does, Black instead concentrated on home-making and upgraded his house to clay and then stone in quick succession.  Somehow he didn’t struggle at harvest time as much as Green, probably because he went into building ovens which provided his food.  This was at the expense of his farm, which remained stubbornly small, right until the end.  The unused spaces cost him though, as did his lack of pigs, and he finished with a fine house, but only one child and a score of twenty-three points.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory went for a different strategy, starting by going for lots of food, and support for getting food later.  In particular he made good use of his Mushroom Picker.  Building his food engine so early enabled him to grow his family early in the game giving him extra actions.  These he used to quietly collect lots of resources, which enabled him to build a large field for sheep.  He then enclosed second pasture and just swiped a field full for boar before Green got them. He only ploughed late (perhaps it was the snowy landscape that delayed him), but his early food strategy really paid off.  All his extra cards were valuable too and added ten points to his score, giving him a total of forty-one points and victory by a sizeable margin, despite Green’s inadvertent cheating!

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as Agricola came to an end, Splendor finished too.  So, after helping to shoe-horn the miriad of little pieces back into the boxes, Ivory and Green headed off leaving Black to join the others.  The ever dwindling numbers were boosted with the arrival of Pine, who had been two-timing us with the WI – he said they had the lowest average age of any WI he’d ever come across, so maybe that was the appeal.  The remaining five gamers felt there was time for one more game, as long as we could keep it to about forty-five minutes.  We are not the quickest at playing, or choosing and time was beginning to get tight, so we opted for Bohnanza as it played quicker than other suggestions and it wouldn’t need any rules reminders (like 11 Nimmt! and Port Royal).  The game is one of our old staples, is quick to learn and keeps everyone involved throughout.  The key to the game is that players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand and must play them in the order they arrive.  Thus, on their turn, the active player first plays the first card in their hand with the option of playing the second if they desire.  Once they’ve been planted, two cards are drawn which can be traded, but must be planted by someone.  This can lead to free gifts, but also players being nasty and refusing to take even the apparently most lucrative trades.

– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Pine was making up for lost time, and the well-known good nature of the WI hadn’t rubbed off.  He accused Burgundy of just about everything he could think of, in an effort to persuade everyone else not to trade with him. Black had one of his worst games for a long time with all the wrong cards coming up at the wrong time giving him nothing to work with.  Otherwise it was a very tight game. In the dying turns, despite Black’s protestations, Purple and Pine both gave Blue exceptionally favourable trades (possibly in an effort to square things from earlier, but more likely to ensure that Burgundy didn’t win – again).  Much to Pine’s surprise, that left him in joint first place with Blue, one coin ahead of Burgundy (possibly the most important factor to him).  Feeling she had been gifted a joint win by Pine’s generosity at the end, Blue offered to concede to Pine, but on checking the rules he won anyhow on the tie-breaker, as the player with the most cards in hand at the end.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Learning Outcome:  Cheating doesn’t pay.

Essen 2016

It is that time of year when, the leaves fall from the trees and gamers visit Germany.  No, Oktoberfest isn’t the draw (that happens in September anyhow), this is an altogether different annual German “festival” – The Internationale Spieltage, which is held in Essen.  To Gamers worldwide, Essen is synonymous with the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world.  The fair runs Thursday to Sunday in mid-October every year and is the one of the largest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions.   As such, many of the manufacturers plan their biggest releases for October with their debut at the Fair.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com

Last year there was a bit of a paucity of new games and it seemed to be all about expansions.  This year, while there are still plenty of expansions for well-loved games like Istanbul, Colt Express, Orléans and Ca$h ‘n Guns etc., there are also a lot of new games based on old favourites.  For example, there is Key to the City – London (which has a lot of elements of one of our favourite games, Keyflower), Jórvík (an update and re-theme of Die Speicherstadt), X Nimmt! (a variant on the popular but chaotic 6 Nimmt!), and the latest incarnation of the Ticket to Ride series, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails.  There will be plenty of other interesting original games too though, including The Oracle of DelphiA Feast for Odin, Cottage Garden and The Colonists.  Several members of the group are going this year, and they’ll no doubt bring back lots of exciting new toys to share with everyone.

Essen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Gonzaga

Spiel des Jahres Winners – 2016

The 2016 winner of the coveted German Game of the Year or Spiel des Jahres award is Codenames.  Codenames is which is a word-based deduction game played in teams.  Each team has a leader who gives clues to the rest of their team who are trying to choose particular word-cards from an array.  The trick is for the leader to come up with a clue that covers multiple correct answers so that the rest of the team can identify the complete set before the opposition.  It’s not really a game that really suits our group as several of the regulars aren’t very keen on social deduction games, but it is very quick to play, so, although we would probably have given the award to one of the two other nominees, Imhotep (manipulating large wooden blocks) or Karuba (“boardgame Bingo“), it may well end up as the “Feature Game” next week.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

At the same time the Kennerspiel des Jahres was awarded, which honours more challenging games.  It was introduced in 2011 to replace the jury’s habit of intermittent special awards for games too complex for the Spiel des Jahres (notably Agricola which was awarded a special “Complex Game” prize in 2008).  This year the Kennerspiel des Jahres award went to Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, which is one of our favourite games.  This year was a bit of a “Marmite” year for us as there were a lot of games on the lists that don’t really fit our group, including the two other Kennerspiel des Jahres nominees (Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E Stories).  The Kinderspiel des Jahres award was announced last month and went to Stone Age Junior (aka My First Stone Age), which is a simpler version of the family worker placement game Stone Age.

Stone Age Junior
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

5th April 2016

Despite a few regulars being away, there were still enough people for two games and the first group opted for the “Feature Game”, Agricola, a highly regarded game about medieval farming.  Agricola is a worker placement game where players take it in turns to deploy the members of their farming family in activities.  At the start of the game there are very few actions and each  player only has two members of their family, but as the game progresses the number of possible actions increases, but players also have the opportunity to expand their families. Each player has a farm which consists of a three by five grid of spaces and at the start of the game two of them are occupied by a two-room wooden hut.  During the game, players can expand their hut, upgrade their wooden shack to a brick or stone house, they can plough fields, enclose land to keep animals and grow vegetables and wheat.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor BeyondMonopoly

The game is played over fourteen rounds with harvests at intervals after which the family must be fed.  Failing to feed the family results in them going hungry and having to beg for vittles which costs points at the end of the game.  Points are awarded for almost everything, but the most successful players are usually those with a thriving farm that makes full use of all the available land and sustains a large family living in a big farmhouse.  The game can be played as a family game, or, for more experienced players, occupation and minor improvement cards can be added.  It had been quite some time since some of us had last played Agricola, and others had never played it, but those of us who were familiar with the game were keen to play with the cards.  When playing with cards it is common to “draft”, i.e. use the primary mechanism found in games like 7 Wonders, Sushi Go! and Between Two Cities where each player chooses a card from their hand before passing it on and choosing the next card from the hand they receive (passing that on until there are no cards left).  The advantage of this approach is that no single player gets all good (or bad) cards by chance, but the disadvantage is that it is very hard to choose cards when players are new to the game and unfamiliar with which cards might work well.  For this reason, drafting wasn’t really an option.  The copy of the game had been “pimped” with shaped wooden resources to replace the original cubes and discs from the base game.  This, combined with three different decks of minor improvements and tight space enhanced our initial confusion, but we did eventually get ourselves sorted and chose the basic “E” Deck.

Agricola
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Green started off by learning a new occupation: Reed Collector; reeds are important for house building.  Having looked at his cards in hand, he had a plan:  he also had the Renovator which would reduce the cost to upgrade his farmhouse, so he thought he could expand his wooden house and then upgrade it on the cheap. He also had the Chiefs Daughter who would give him an additional three points if he successfully upgraded his house to stone. Meanwhile, the others set about collecting resources as a base from which to build their farms.  Indigo quickly learnt the second occupation of the game: the Hedge Keeper which would enable her to build three additional fences each time she built at least one – impressively powerful we thought at the time, especially at end game for filling unused spaces.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor lolcese

The first rounds were a lesson in frustration as resources and actions were limited and we all found ourselves unable to get what we needed and do what we wanted, a problem compounded by only having two farmers each.  Progress on the farms seemed slow; Green, Pine and burgundy seemed more interested in home improvements than actual farming and at one point it looked like we should have renamed the game, “Yuppy-ville”.  Green then invested in a canoe and went fishing a lot:  was the price of farming so high he was going into retirement before he got into a financial mess?  Despite her highly prized hedge making ability, it wasn’t Indigo who fenced in their first field but Pine, which he promptly filled with the four sheep that no-one had been able to find a home for previously.  This was especially funny since, as the vegetarian of the group, he had planned to make his and arable farm rather than a pastoral farm.  Still sheep are good for wool, so his moral stance was intact, for the moment, at least. Released from Market, Pine’s sheep quickly produced a nice spring lamb for our intrepid veggie farmer, to keep as a pet in his farmhouse.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy meanwhile had made use of his special ploughing skills to turn over two fields in one go, but that was about as far as they went for many rounds.  Although he was forced into a fallow strategy (not one that scores any points or subsidies in this game), he wasn’t complaining. That was reserved for anyone else who took the available wood before he could reach it.  This forced Burgundy into becoming a bit of a clay specialist which meant he was able to build an oven before anyone else, something he desperately needed to feed his family since there was so little actual production going on on his farm.  In keeping with his non-farming, farming strategy, Burgundy was also the first to renovate his home, twice in quick succession to a give him a grand two room stone cottage.  Pine and Green followed and extended their wooden shacks. This gave Green room to grow and he became the first player to gain an extra farmer.  Pine quickly followed suit, but his attempts to grow vegetables was being scuppered by everyone else taking the one available “Plough & Sow” space before him. So, with a tear in his eye, he was forced to build an oven and take some of his precious sheep to the abattoir.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor HRune

Our farms were slowly growing.  Green still only had one ploughed field and no pastures, but he had learnt several trades, built a number of improvements to his farm and extended his modest cottage to four rooms.  In one move, he upgraded his house to brick and built a clay oven (the one that Indigo had just returned after trading it in for a better model), which enabled him to bake bread and get enough food to feed his burgeoning family.  By this time, Pine had turned into a hardened livestock farmer, his earlier heartache a mere distant memory.  He enclosed his massive second pasture, moved his sheep around and expanded into cattle.  The Master Hedge Maker, Indigo, still had only one pasture and no animals, but the arable part of her mixed farm was very healthy, overflowing with wheat.  The failure of her livestock attempts did not last long either, and she emulated Pine enclosing a large second pasture and captured a couple of wild boar to place in it.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor sufertashu

Back on Green’s farm, he had decided that maybe he should do a little farming and finally having got some wood, he built some fences and acquired some pigs. His skill in ceramics had enabled him to get a free pottery and started turning the now unwanted clay into some strange tasting food.  Green then turned his clay house into a stone mansion and quickly fenced in another pasture and got some cattle.  With the game rapidly drawing to a conclusion he had four farmers to work with, but he was still hampered by the availability of resources and actions, often taken by others.  For example, his plans for a third pasture and some sheep were stymied by Pine who nabbed them to add to his ever growing flock.  Meanwhile, Indigo’s farm was flourishing and when she finally got some sheep, it seemed all she needed to to to be able to say she had a finger in every pie was get some some cattle – one was available and she was so keen on it that she let it live with her in her own house.

RedAgricola
– Image by boardGOATS

In contrast, Burgundy’s whole game seamed to have constantly been scuppered at every turn.  Even taking the start token usually only lasted one round and invariably he then seemed to find himself choosing at the end of the round once more. We don’t quite know how he did it, but somehow by the end of the game he had filled every space on his board – clearly he got that wood and fencing in the end.  With only two rounds left, Pine finally moved into wheat and vegetables.  Discussing the game afterwards he commented that he’d been dealt a poor set of cards at the start and on reflection they did look like a very difficult set to work with.  On the other hand, Black on the next table piped up that the cards were not really all that important.  While that may be the case, in this game Green was the winner primarily thanks to having played a great set of cards. In fact, of his forty-three points, he scored twelve from his cards, which was seven more than anyone else.  In contrast, Indigo’s balanced farm netted her a solid second place, just six points behind.  Were the cards that important?  We’ll play it again sometime soon and maybe find out.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor nolemonplease

On the other table, meanwhile, The Voyages of Marco Polo was getting a second outing after its introduction at our last meeting.  The game is played over five rounds with players recreating Marco Polo’s journey to China via Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”.  Each player has a different character and special power in the game.  Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform use them to perform one action each per turn.  The actions include:  gathering resources, gathering camels, earning money, buying purchase orders and travelling.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most purchase orders, and having visited the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor bovbossi

Purple (who also played last time) decided to try the teleporting trader, Johannes Caprini again and work more on getting contracts.  Last time, we realised that taking an action first was a huge benefit because it avoided the problem of having to pay to take actions.  So, after that, Black chose Berke Kahn which would allow him to choose actions already taken without having to pay.   Scarlet, who was new to the game, opted for Wilhelm von Rubruk (played by Black last time) for the extra trading stations.  Also new to the game, Pink, felt that having an extra die and contract each round would give her the edge, and chose with Matteo Polo.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Despite her teleporting ability, Purple was unable to get to Beijing, but she was the only one who hadn’t made it across the board for the extra points by the end of the game.  It seemed her extra experience could not help her make full use of her special power as she failed to complete her second destination card as well.  Reading opinion of this character on BoardGameGeek, it seems Purple’s fondness of this character is rather misplaced, as it seems to be universally felt to be a poor one to get to work.  Scarlet had done rather better with his choice it seems, although he just failed to get his extra houses out, which is a tough ask in this game.  Others who play this character seem to get varied results, though perhaps for people that can make it work, it can do really well, but otherwise it can trip players up.  The general opinion on Matteo Polo also appears to be good; sometimes it can work really well, but it is never a hindrance.  Pink, however, just struggled to get the game to work for her and it just didn’t seem to fire her enthusiasm. She failed to complete either of her destinations and only managed to place three “houses” and generally found the game difficult all the way through.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Looking back at the last time we played, as well as Johannes Caprini and Wilhelm von Rubrukand, we used Mercator ex Tabriz and Kublai Kahn.  Mercator ex Tabriz (who gives the player a free resource when others use the market) seems to be widely regarded as the best character, however, Pine really struggled with him. In contrast, Kublai Kahn appears to be seen as a middling character, who is very reliant on how the city bonuses fall – last time they fell well for Green who made good use of them, but the character could be a lot less effective if the bonuses were less favourable.  There are two characters we have not yet played, Raschid-ad-Din Sinan and the pairing of Niccolo and Marco Polo.  Even though Raschid-ad-Din Sinan looks good (he allows the player to choose their own dice values), it seems most players only rate him average.  Maybe it’s because poor dice rolls can be compensated for and turn into good ones, so the actual values rolled are of less consequence to the game than might be thought initially.  The pairing of Niccolo and Marco Polo can be difficult to make work as two characters does not mean twice the resources, quite the opposite and they can get stuck in a city, although with less players it is felt they might do better (as there are less opponents to steal the city bonuses first).

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

So clearly, although some characters might have a tendency to be more useful than others, ultimately success depends on circumstances and how well the player uses that character.  This was also the case for this, our second game where Black finished first with a massive fifty-eight points, a combination of a good character played effectively. On the geek there seems to be a general consensus that Berke Khan is one of the top characters in this game, demonstrating others appreciate the power of not having to pay for actions. With Agricola still a few rounds from finishing, there was time for a quick game of Click & Crack, a game of simultaneous action selection game in which the players control two penguins each, walking around on a big ice floe – a cold arctic game to contrast with the heat of the eastern deserts.

Click & Crack
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is best to put even the most deep-seated moral objections to one side for the duration of a game…