Tag Archives: Amerigo

12th July 2016

The hungry were feeding when an itinerant gamer from the north-west wondered in to join us.  In the area for work, Yellow has been visiting several local game groups recently and was nice enough to come and join us for the evening.  In addition, Grey made another unexpected appearance; apparently Cerise was away with the little one, so he was free to come out and play with us.  Unfortunately for them though, our start was delayed a little while Blue and Burgundy scoffed their supper as quickly as they could and everyone else talked politics.  Normally politics is a topic of conversation people avoid for fear of arguments, but it is amazing how everyone in the group seems to agree at the moment.  In fact, as the evening wore on, it felt like history was being made as we watched: news come in that the Labour NEC had decided that Jeremy Corbyn should be able to stand as leader without needing the usual support from members of the Parliamentary Party, and the Petitions Committee had decided to schedule a referendum debate for 5th Sept, following the petition that garnered over four million signatures.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, we decided to get on with it with Blue and Magenta keen to play the “Feature Game”, Puerto Rico.  Surprisingly (as Puerto Rico is Green’s favourite game and it was with him in mind that we chose it), Green was keen to play Amerigo instead.  He had missed out on playing it on Friday night with the Didcot group and it had clearly been playing on his mind over the weekend.  By the same token, Burgundy and Black were less keen to play Amerigo as they had played it on Friday and they quite fancied Puerto Rico instead.  Purple had played it on Friday, but was keen to play again, so the group naturally split into two with Pine joining those playing Puerto Rico and Grey and Yellow joining the Amerigo group.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico is an older game, and in many ways the archetypal Euro game.  The idea of the game is quite simple in that on their turn, the active player chooses a “roles” 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 amongst the players), and the Prospector (everyone does nothing except the person with the privilege who takes a doubloon from the bank).

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The “colonists” arrive by ship, are dark brown and work on the plantations, so many gamers have assumed the term is a pseudonym for African slaves and in the USA this means some people have refused to play the game.  We are not like that in our group and, though we have no problem talking about slaves, we had far more fun talking about “colonists” in a way that everyone knew what we really meant.  What with that and the references to the Big Meerkat (that’s in the centre of Newcastle you know), the Orifice building (otherwise known as the Office), Worf (Son of Mogh), and the Big and Little Whorehouses (or perhaps they were really warehouses), much of the game was carried out in a sort of code.  This special group understanding was continued in the game play too where Magenta kept getting in Burgundy’s way, much to everyone else’s obvious delight, though Magenta insisted that it was all purely accidental.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy started, so he, Blue and Black began the game with an indigo plantation while Magenta and Pine started out with a corn field.  Pine found it quite hard to see what we needed to do, but he soon got past that and, as the game wore on, he quickly monopolised the tobacco market.  He remained the only player dealing in tobacco for most of the game which was quite important due to the way shipping works: when a player chooses the Captain role, players take it in turns to place goods on one of the three ships.  Each ship can only carry one type of cargo and they all have a finite space.  As the only player shipping tobacco, whenever Pine was able to transport some of his tobacco he simultaneously prevented others from shipping their goods.  Since this is the key way to get victory points, before long, Pine had built a sizeable pile and looked to be romping away with it.  Meanwhile, Black, then Magenta and Burgundy moved into sugar which made them uneasy allies, sometimes working together to get sugar into a ship, but otherwise competing to get their goods into the last space on a ship.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

While everyone else was engaged in building a productive plantation, Burgundy began by by using his land for quarries, lots of quarries.  These make building cheaper, but don’t provide goods when someone chooses the Craftsman role.  Seeing where he was going, Magenta picked up a Construction Hut which enabled her to choose a quarry instead of a plantation each time anyone chose the Settler role.  Blue managed to pick up one quarry, but otherwise, between them, Burgundy and Magenta were in danger of getting all of them.  Burgundy got round the potential for a lack of plantations by building a Hacienda which gave him an extra plantation every time anyone else Settled.  He then coupled this with Hospice which meant that one of these plantations/quarries arrived complete with a “colonist” – a very powerful combination.  For a long time Black havered over whether to try to get in on the quarry game or not.  To begin with he decided not before picking one up anyhow.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine was sat next to Magenta quietly coveting her Construction Hut, but it was pointed out that it wasn’t a good time to buy it and there were better things he could do, advice he took.  It obviously rankled a little though because every time after that when quarries were mentioned he added, “Though I’m not allowed a quarry…”.  Eventually, Blue decided she was struggling from a lack of both cash and victory points and needed to do something drastic to get back into the game.  So, taking a leaf out of Pine’s book, she expanded into coffee and then screwed everyone else up by starting a coffee ship which took several rounds to fill.  Eventually, she was joined by Pine who then variously helped her and got in her way.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Black both made a hash of their timing with the crafting and shipping, and when Blue finally worked out what she was doing and planned what she needed for a large building she lost the plot and failed to choose the Builder role when she had the chance.  So, when Magenta took the builder a couple of turns later, everyone had enough for a large building and Blue was left without her first or second choice.  Magenta who had filled less than half her plantation spaces took the Residence just to stop Burgundy and Blue who had been able to fill theirs and would have been able to get maximum points for it (thanks to their Haciendas).  So, Burgundy took the Fortress (which gave him one point for every three “colonists”) and Blue took the Customs House (which gave one extra victory point chip for every four already held).  This left Black with the dregs from which he took the Guild Hall (giving him points for his production buildings).  Meanwhile, Pine ominously kept producing vast amounts of tobacco and shipping it.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

By this time, Blue and Black were convinced that Pine was miles ahead, and everyone else was playing for the minor places.  Pine in turn was convinced Magenta had a healthy lead; Magenta was certain she was losing, but continued to innocently obstruct Burgundy and the game turned nasty as everyone began to struggle to ship what they wanted.  With the number of victory point chips available dwindling faster than the number of “colonists”, everyone scrabbled to build that last utility and ship those final crates.  It turned out that it was a very close game: Magenta had a misleadingly large pile of singleton victory point chips; Pine probably would have won if the game had the game ended a round or two earlier, and Burgundy may well have won had it gone on another for another couple of rounds.  In the end though, despite being quite convinced she was nowhere close, Blue finished in first place with fifty-six, just three points ahead of Pine with Black taking third on a tie-break.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Amerigo was going full steam ahead.  In this game players are exploring the islands of South America, securing trading routes, and building settlements.  The game board is made up of a four by four grid of large tiles that make an archipelago.  Players then have two ships each which they sail through the maze of islands, mooring at natural harbours to build trading posts, and then expanding settlements.  The actions available to players are determined through the use of a special cube tower that contains lots of buffers and buttresses. The idea is that each of the seven actions has an associated set of coloured cubes:  blue for sailing, black for loading cannon, red for buying buildings, green for settling etc.  At the start of the game, all the cubes are put into the top of the tower a small number get stuck and remain inside the tower to be potentially knocked out at a later point in the game.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

There are four rounds and each round consists of seven phases, corresponding to each action where all the cubes available of that colour are poured into the tower.  Most of these cubes come out again, but some dislodge cubes previously caught in the baffles, while others others get stuck themselves.  Of the cubes that come out, the colour that is in the majority dictates the number, while all the colours dictate the actions.  Thus, if five blue, one green and one black come out, players can choose between sailing, building settlements or loading cannon, and in each case, they have five “action points”.  So, the actions that are available are largely predictable, with a slightly random element meaning there is a tactical element (taking advantage of the actions currently available in the best way possible) as well as a strategic (long term plan) element to the game.

Amerigo
– Image by BGG contributor mcfer

Points are available throughout the game for all sorts of things, including being the first person to land on an island and establish a trading post; building settlements on an island; completing an island by settling on its last available space; collecting gold, and moving along the progress and special action paths.  At the end of each round, however, the pirates attack and players have to fire their cannon to repel boarders.  Anyone who has not loaded sufficient cannon to fend off the pirates, loses points which is particularly nasty, because these players lose as many points as they would if they’d had no cannon at all, and they also have to fire the cannon they had loaded!

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Inevitably we all started off sailing to islands near to us, and generally we all did the main colour action in the first round. Grey toyed with the idea of not doing Cannon’s, but in the end decided to copy the more experienced players.  So an easy and simple, first round, in a game that gradually became a more cut throat battle.   Purple concentrated on running up her brown track and gaining the bonus action chits and spread across to a few islands. This strategy seemed to leave her struggling for points as the game went on.  Yellow was unsure how best to approach the game, so tended to stick to the action colour sequence, but got hold of the red equals green equals red bonus chit, which he used to good effect to build up on his several islands. This strategy netted him a good haul of points as the game progressed.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

Grey was running an expansionist policy, getting to as many islands as he could. On top of this he, quite slyly, built over the extra empty trading post spaces, thus rendering them useless and gaining a monopoly on several islands, however, his score also seemed to suffer for this.  Meanwhile, Green carried out a number of red planning actions to build up a large backlog of buildings to place. This meant he always had something to place in those tricky corners, but he lost out on his big islands by leaving it too late to place them. Early on, he nabbed the big six neutral tile (the only one in the game) and then realised that he was on the wrong side of the big island to be able to place it, so had to make a quick trip to the other side to develop a new trading post before he could place it for a whopping eighteen points. This strategy was proving quite productive and he and Yellow were regularly vying for the lead.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

In the last part of the game, while Purple and Yellow continued their general strategy, Grey decided he had enough islands and started to place his tiles on them to gain the resources. Green, having built as much as he could, was left wondering what to do next. He had lots of tiles still to place, but nowhere to place them without a new trading post. There were four left, all on the other side of the board and they were disappearing fast, so green started sailing.  By using his gold and going round the outside he was able to get to the area in just one move.  By this time, there were only two trading posts left as everyone else worked together to stop Green. With no more gold, Green was not quite able to get to a trading post and ended just one space away.  Yellow took his turn and he built on the other trading post leaving Green to sail once more and place his trading post.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With only two single spaces left on this last island, there was a bit of a stand-off between Yellow and Green:  whoever built first would gain a single point, but leave the other to get the three point bonus for finishing the island.  Meanwhile, there was a total of eight pirates on the board which everyone had covered until Purple took the two-plus pirate attack bonus token.  Purple was aright of course, but everyone else needed another two cannon if they weren’t going to end up with an eight point penalty. More turns were sacrificed to gain cannon which also sent players to the top of the line and provided extra gold.  Purple and Green found themselves with no actions to do, so ended up trading action cubes for gold, while Grey and Yellow mopped-up island bonuses.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the very last action everyone swapped their gold for extra spaces on the white turn order track, just to get to that extra scoring location.  With the game coming to an end and neither Green nor Yellow prepared to give quarter on the last island, neither took the final three points.  Before the final scoring began, Yellow was in the lead, a few points clear of Green.  As the final scoring phase began, it became apparent that everyone except for Purple had misunderstood the scoring the resource bonuses. We thought the number on the yellow action chits was its multiplier value, however, this number is irrelevant to the scoring, it only means it costs more to obtain. Grey was particularly annoyed as he had deliberately been going for the high value action tokens and had been choosing the resource tokens appropriately.

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the end, it was very close with Grey and Purple catching up however, it wasn’t quite enough, and Yellow and Green remained several points ahead, tied on a hundred and thirty-one.  The tie-breaker gave it to Yellow, as he was at the end of the turn order track and Green was five spaces farther back. On reflection though, Green later realised that he could have taken it had he known the rules better as he’d finished with six gold.  He could easily have spent the surplus gold to move along the track, but had decided against it as, although it would have given him an extra five points, the gold was worth one point each so there had seemed no point.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Puerto Rico was still underway, and with Grey deciding he could do with an early night (while the Cat’s away, the Mice will play – and it seemed this Mouse had been playing quite a bit!), Purple, Green and Yellow opted for some quick, light-hearted fun with Om Nom Nom.  This is one of our more popular games, and we’ve played it a few times on a Tuesday evening.  Purple loves it and it was new to Yellow though, so despite his conviction that it’s completely random, Green joined in.  The idea is quite simple, each player has a hand of “Predator” cards, and the dice represent “Prey”.  Players simultaneously choose a card to play and then Prey is divided up accordingly.  If there is enough Prey for all the Predators to eat, then players take their share of the appropriate dice.  If not, the Predator(s) go hungry and the cards are discarded.  The catch is that some cards are both Predator and Prey, which is where the game descends into double-think (or Luck as Green prefers to think of it).

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Green has tried a variety of “methods” to beat the “luck”, but much like an inveterate gambler, a “technique” that works a couple of times almost always fails in the end, and so it proved this time too.  In the first card of the first round, Green decided to change his card just before everyone revealed theirs which proved fortuitous as his hedgehog ended up with a bunch of frog dice and cards. So, Green swapped his second and third cards at the last second and he picked up Prey on both occasions. As the round progressed, Purple and Yellow also achieved some success and Green took another card, but by the end of the round, the scores were very even with Purple ahead by just one point.  Probability can be a funny thing, but it was still quite a shock to roll nine carrots, each with a probability of one-in-six.  And so  began a little game of cat & mouse, literally with everyone trying to  second guess each others choices and all ending up feeling that the carrots looked too good to be true and there was bound to be a fox hanging around.

Om Nom Nom
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

At the second attempt, Yellow found he couldn’t resist temptation and went for the carrots only to find Purple’s fox was waiting to pounce.  Then, somehow (and nobody could work out exactly how), Purple ended up with the entire haul of carrots all to herself.  By this time, Green had reverted to type and scored nothing for the round, Yellow produced a creditable showing, but Purple took an amazing twenty-nine points. The final round was a much more even spread of dice and scores. Yellow was getting better and better and won the round while Green got lucky and took a few more points.  Purple was not so successful this time out, but it didn’t matter, as her massive score in the second round gave her a record-breaking forty-eight, according to the scoring card, a new high score!

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

Learning Outcome:  Don’t ascribe to luck what others might call skill.

22nd September 2015

It was a quiet night and, like last time, while we were waiting for people to arrive, we started off with the cooperative card game, The Game.  This time it was only a three-player game and we had a terrible start when Blue’s initial hand had nothing below forty or above sixty.  Things got worse when, a few rounds later she was left with little between ten and ninety.  We struggled on manfully, but we finished with a total of twelve unplayable cards left at the end – we were not even close to matching our recent success.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

With the arrival of Black and Purple, we decided to move onto our “Feature Game”, Notre Dame.  This is one of the first games published by the highly prolific game designer, Stefan Feld, who also designed some of our other favourite games including The Speicherstadt and Amerigo.  Feld’s games are often referred to as “point salads” – i.e. games where players can build their score from lots of different sources and Notre Dame is one of these games.  The round starts with the revealing of three character cards which can be hired at the end of the round.  This is followed by drafting three action cards:  each player draws three action cards from a personal deck of nine, keeps one and passes the other two to the player on their left.  From the two they receive, they then choose another one to keep and pass the remaining card on so that everyone finishes with a hand of three cards, one card from each of the two players to their right.

Notre Dame
– Image by boardGOATS

Beginning with the start player, there are then two rounds where each person plays one card, discarding the third.  One way of looking at this is as worker placement where the card drafting is just a novel way of restricting choices.  The actions include things like collecting victory points, collecting money, moving the players carriage and so on.  However, in order to be able to carryout the action, players must place a “worker” (called influence cubes in this game) on the corresponding sector of their map.  The clever part is that the reward yielded (i.e. how many victory points they get, how much money they receive or how far the carriage can move etc.) depends on the total number of influence cubes in the sector.  Thus, for placing the first cube in the banking sector, a player will get one coin, but if they later add a second cube, they get two coins, and so on.

Notre Dame
– Image by boardGOATS

At the end of the round, players can then hire one of the characters for the fixed cost of one coin.  Finally, once everything else has been dealt with, everyone increases their rat population according to the number of rats shown at the bottom of the character cards (which were first displayed at the start of the round).  If a player exceeds nine rats, then nasty things happen including loss of influence cubes and victory points.  Every third round, the cathedral is scored.  This is an area of the board that everyone can place an influence cube in, in exchange for a donation to the church.  When it is scored, a set number of points is divided amongst the players depending on how many influence cubes they have in the Cathedral area.  For example, in a five-player game, twelve points are up for grabs; when four of the players each have one cube in the cathedral, they will get three points a piece, but if there is only one player with a presence in the cathedral, that player will take all the points.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Like most good worker-placement type games, players always want to do more things than they can.  For example, if a player does not have sufficient cubes in their personal supply, then they can move them from somewhere else.  That means the original action has one influence cube less, however, and consequently will yield less reward.  So, one of the actions is to get additional influence cubes.  For this reason, players have to try to make sure that they maintain a sufficient supply of cubes by carrying out the corresponding action.  With only two actions per round though, this is difficult.  Similarly, without money players cannot hire one the characters and at the end of the round, the rat population increases so it is essential that players stay on top of that too.  Meanwhile, the winner is the player with the most points at the end of the game, so players also have to try to collect victory points whenever they can.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Everyone started out a little unsure of what to do, but we got the hang of it quite quickly.  Black started out best, having played before he had an idea of what all the actions could do and how the game would develop.  At the end of the third round, the Cathedral points were shared evenly between Burgundy, Blue, Green and Black.  Meanwhile, Burgundy was trying to collect messages with his carriage with the idea that they would allow him to get points as well as maintain his cube supply and control his rat population.  However, this plan backfired and he got stuck without money which meant he couldn’t hire characters.  Green had a plan to try to alternate between picking up cubes and money, but somehow couldn’t quite make it work.  Blue was just picking up what she could when she could, and then got lucky picking up all the Cathedral points at the end of the sixth round.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor GogTad

Totaling up the scores showed that the game was much tighter than we all thought, but ultimately difference was caused by the Plague.  Blue and Green invested heavily in keeping their rat population under control, ensuring the plague never broke out and did best.  There were only eight points between second and last.  Being the sole beneficiary of the second batch of Cathedral points put Blue eight points clear of Green in second which annoyed him as he felt he could have shared the points if he’d spotted it (or listened to Black who had pointed it out just before his last turn).  We all really enjoyed the game, finding it a bit different with very tight  choices, especially at the end.  Definitely a game to try again sometime soon.

Notre Dame
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We finished the evening with a quick game of one of our current favourite “push-your-luck -fillers”, Om Nom Nom.  Burgundy won the first round with fifteen by taking a whole bunch of carrots unchallenged. Green declared that he disliked this sort of game because it was far too luck dependent.  The second round was much tighter; Green decided to try a new strategy – choosing two cards playing the one he least liked, but although this sort of worked for the first card or two, it didn’t after that.  Blue was the clear winner of the final round with sixteen, thanks to a swarm of flies.  This gave her a total of thirty-two, eight more than Burgundy in second and a clean(ish) sweep for the evening.  Green finished last – Luck?  What luck…?

Om Nom Nom
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Boardgames in the News: The Best Games Featuring Maps

The “Brilliant Maps” Blog recently listed what it considered “The 28 Best Map Based Strategy Board Games You’ve Probably Never Played“.  Leaving aside the fact that most dedicated gamers will have played many of them, how valid is this list?  On closer inspection it turns out that the list is really just the top twenty-eight games listed on BoardGameGeek.com (BGG) that happen to have a map for the board.  As such, it makes no subjective judgement on the quality of the map and is simply a list of the best games according to BoardGameGeek that feature a map.

Twilight Struggle
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor killy9999

For example, the game with the highest rating on BoardGameGeek.com is Twilight Struggle which is a Euro/war game hybrid and is therefore played on a map.  The map is not particularly picturesque, however, though for those old enough to remember, its spartan nature is strongly evocative of the Cold War setting.  Is it a great map though?  It certainly captures the theme of the game and perhaps, as such, it is indeed a great map.

Terra Mystica
– Image by BGG contributor Verkisto

Unsurprisingly, many of the games mentioned are war games.  There are a fair number of Euro games too though:  high on the list are Terra Mystica at number two, Brass at four and Power Grid at six.  Number ten on the list is Concordia and eleven is El Grande – a game that is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.  Further down are Tigris and Euphrates, Steam, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Carcassonne and finally, just sneaking onto the list, The Settlers of Catan (or Catan as we are now supposed to call it).  All these games indeed include maps of some description, but overwhelmingly, they are also all well-established “classic” games.  Are they the best maps though?

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

There are some stunningly beautiful games that haven’t made the list, for example, Amerigo is played on a beautiful seascape and Lancaster includes a lovely map of the England.  How do we define “map-based game” however?  Clearly, a map is is a two-dimensional play space so that excludes games where the play-area is predominantly linear i.e. “a track”.  But what about games where the map is produced as the game is played?  If Carcassonne is considered a map game, other games where the board is built during the play should also be included, like Saboteur and Takenoko.  What about one of our favourite games at boardGOATS, Keyflower?  In this game, players buy tiles and then use them to build their own personal little village map.  Should this be included too?

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately, none of this really matters of course:  a game is a game and it all comes down to how much people enjoy playing it.  One thing is clear though, while a game can be good in spite of the rendering, playing with beautiful components can only enhance the boardgame experience.

Carcassonne
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Topdecker

23rd September 2014

We were late starting (again), though by the time we began we knew we were going to be short of people, so we started with Mr. Jack.  This is an asymmetric, two-player game where one person takes on the role of “Jack” who is trying to escape, and the other tries to catch him before the escapes.  We’ve played the pocket version a couple of times before, but this was the first outing on for the big version on a Tuesday evening at the pub.

Mr. Jack

The idea is that four of the characters are active in each round, with the four chosen at random in the first round, then the remaining four are played in the second round before the characters are shuffled and drawn randomly at the start of the third round.  In the first round, the “Detective” chooses one character and plays it straight away; then Jack chooses and plays two from those left;  finally the Detective finishes the round by playing the last character available.  In general, on their turn, a character is moved one to three spaces around the board.  However, each character also has a special ability which may be used to modify their action.  For example, Miss Stealthy, can move up to four spaces and may move through buildings if she wishes, on the other hand, Inspector Lestrade can only move a maximum of three, but must move one of the barriers during his turn.

Mr. Jack

Thus, each character is moved in turn and at the end of each round, the question is asked, “Is Jack in the Light or the Dark?”  If Jack is immediately adjacent to any other character, next to a street lamp, or in line with Dr. Watson’s lamp, he is in the Light, otherwise, he is in the Dark.  The player playing Jack must respond truthfully, thus allowing the detective to eliminate some characters.  If he is in the Light, Jack has survived another round, but may not actually escape until he is in the Dark again.

Mr. Jack

The game began with Green (playing “Jack”) choosing his alter ego at random from the eight possibilities:  Sergeant Goodley, Miss Stealthy, Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Bert, Inspector Lestrade, John Smith, Sir William Gull and Dr. Watson.  Meanwhile Blue set up the board.  Blue had played it a number of times before, and although Green had played the pocket version once, this version was entirely new.  So, Blue felt really bad when she had eliminated half of the characters by the end of the first round, leaving just four possibilities.  Green had a much better second round however, and going into the third, still had three characters left.

Mr. Jack

It was then that Black and Purple walked through the door.  With only two possible characters left, the ultimate conclusion of the game wasn’t really in any doubt, but rather than keep Black and Purple waiting, Blue decided to add a little spice to it the end of the game and guess and got it wrong…  But then, who would suspect Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick Dr. Watson…?

Mr. Jack

With Black and Purple, we decided to play something a little longer that would take up most of the rest of the evening.  After some discussion and presentation of likely candidates, we eventually decided to play Amerigo.  This is a game that we had all played before though you wouldn’t have believed it if you’d been listening to the “table talk”.

Amerigo

In this game players are exploring the islands of South America, securing trading routes, and building settlements.  The game board is made up of a four by four grid of large tiles that make an archipelago.  Players then have two ships each which they sail through the maze of islands, mooring at natural harbours to build trading posts, and then expanding settlements.

Amerigo

The actions available to players are determined through the use of a special cube tower that contains lots of buffers and butresses. The idea is that each of the seven actions has an associated set of coloured cubes:  blue for sailing, black for loading cannon, red for buying buildings, green for settling etc.  At the start of the game, all the cubes are put into the top of the tower a small number get stuck and remain inside the tower to be potentially knocked out at a later point in the game.

Amerigo

There are four rounds and each round consists of seven phases, corresponding to each action where all the cubes available of that colour are poured into the tower.  Most of these cubes come out again, but some dislodge cubes previously caught in the baffles, while others others get stuck themselves.  Of the cubes that come out, the colour that is in the majority dictates the number, while all the colours dictate the actions.  Thus, if five blue, one green and one black come out, players can choose between sailing, building settlements or loading cannon, and in each case, they have five “action points”.  So, the actions that are available are largely predictable, with a slightly random element meaning there is a tactical element (taking advantage of the actions currently available in the best way possible) as well as a strategic (long term plan) element to the game.

Amerigo

Points are available throughout the game for all sorts of things, including being the first person to land on an island and establish a trading post; building settlements on an island; completing an island by settling on its last available space; collecting gold, and moving along the progress and special action paths.  At the end of each round, however, the pirates attack and players have to fire their cannon to repel boarders.  Anyone who has not loaded sufficient cannon to fend off the pirates, loses points and it’s nasty, because these players lose as many points as they would if they’d had no cannon, and they also have to fire the cannon they had loaded!

Amerigo

It was the point-scoring for completing islands that really confused Blue, however and she never really quite got the hang of it.  The islands are divided into two classes:  small islands and large islands.  Building on large islands always scores more points than building on small ones and these points are awarded at the time.  Completing a large island wins the player a treasure chest which they can turn into gold, but there is much more to it than that.  Anyone with a trading post on the completed island scores points determined by multiplying the number on the time marker for that round (which decreases by one each round during the game), by the number from the triangular series that corresponds to the number of trading posts they have (i.e. 1, 3, 6, 10, 15 & 21 for one to six trading posts respectively).  Thus, completing an island on which you have a lot of trading posts scores a significant number of points, but you don’t have to be the player to complete the island and the earlier it is completed, the more everyone scores.

Amerigo

Black started out well managing to get an entire large island all to himself, by blocking off all the trading posts and proceeded to buy some large settlement tiles and build them on his large island.  Meanwhile, Green had a bit of a nightmare as every plan he made got stamped on by Blue.  It was clearly completely unintentional, as Blue had barely enough understanding of the game to manage her own plans never mind upset someone else!  Green got his revenge, however, by picking up the “everyone else needs two extra cannon to fight off the pirates” progress tile.  Nobody else was very impressed, especially purple who had just acquired the “fight off the pirates and get two gold” progress token.

Amerigo

Everyone was quite convinced that Black was the run-away leader as he’d been able to buy two of the valuable neutral settlement tiles every turn instead of just one and a large island all to himself.  However, somehow, Black’s plan to fill the large island hadn’t quite come off and he’d been out maneuvered when building his largest settlements by Green and Blue who carved up the largest free space between them, so by the end of the game it turned out that he’d not actually been able to capitalise on a lot of the buildings he’d bought.  Blue had also had problems building enough having picked up two progress tiles early which gave her two extra action points when sailing and two when buying settlement tiles (planning), but she had decided to get round the problem by sacrificing a turn and moving up the special action track to land on a green space.  This gave her additional opportunities to build whenever white cubes came out of the tower and she ended the game with almost no unused tiles.  This proved invaluable in the dying stages of the game as, despite a late charge from Green (who had a huge pile of “sticks”), she finished eight points clear.

Amerigo

Learning Outcome:  You don’t have to understand a game to win it.

31st December 2013

The evening started with a quick two player game of “extend the table and try to find space for it”.  Just as we were finishing, one of our regulars arrived with his family, including his dinosaur-pyjama-clad four year old – unquestionably the youngest GOAT to date!

PitchCar

As planned, we started off with our “Feature Game”, the gorgeous, dexterity car-race, PitchCar.  The idea of this game is that, starting with the player at the front of the field in each round, players take it in turns to flick their small wooden car round the custom-made circuit.  Since the game was new to so many of the players, we started out with a simple track with just one jump (from the first expansion) and smooth corners (from the second expansion).  Despite their tender years, Black and Yellow demonstrated a remarkable aptitude, and Black ran in the easy winner.

PitchCar Track 1 - 31/12/13

The first game was such a hit that when three more people arrived, we built a second, slightly more complex track while pizzas were “prepped”.  In this game, Blue (played by one of the new arrivals), quickly got half a lap ahead and managed to maintain his lead until the end.  This was followed by a game of “hunt for enough chairs” by which time, the first of the pizzas were ready.  By this time, despite it being two hours past his bedtime, “dinoGOAT” was still keen to play on, however, we managed to persuade him (with the aid of a mince pie) that it was bedtime and we’d play Dinosaur Race another time.

PitchCar Track 2 - 31/12/13

That left us with just enough people to give the first of our “Christmas Games” an outing.  Waldschattenspiel is not, as you might think, a game about what bears do in the woods.  It is actually a really unusual game, played in the dark, where one player (the designated adult!) operates a candle and the others are little dwarf meeples with felt hats.  The idea is that that wooden trees cast shadows, and the dwarves, who start the game hiding in the woods, have to meet up together behind the same tree. The snag is that when they move, they must do so without being illuminated by the candle. Any photophobic dwarves caught in the light become “frozen” and are unable to move until they are rescued by other dwarves.  The dwarves started out badly when Green got trapped, and then frozen, very early on.  The rest of the dwarves managed to meet up, but in a failure of strategy, tried to rescue Green as a group.  When they all got trapped and only Red was able to escape, the writing was on the wall and the Candle scored a win on the next move.

Waldschattenspiel

Next up was the second of our Christmas Games, 7 Wonders.  This is a card drafting game, where each person picks one card from their hand to play, then passes their remaining cards on to the next player.  The aim of the game is to build your civilisation by developing your science and technology and building one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  We played the ‘A’ side and with seven players, most of whom had never played it before, there was a lot of chaos, and the game was a bit of a mystery to a lot of us. However, the game was won by one of the new players, who, as well as successfully building the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, also had a strong army and had a well developed civilisation.

7 Wonders

A couple more players left and the rest of us played with the tower from Amerigo while we decided what the next game should be.  Enticing though it was, it only played four, so, after much deliberation, we decided to play Dixit.

Amerigo

This is a clever, light card game, where the “active player” secretly chooses a card and uses a sound, word, phrase or sentence to describe it.  The other players all choose the best card from their hand to match the sentence and secretly hand them to the active player who shuffles the cards and displays them to everyone. The players then try to guess which card was played by the active player with points being awarded for choosing correctly, having your card chosen by another player, and, as the active player, for being ambiguous enough to ensure that some players, but not all, chose their card.  The artwork by Marie Cardouat is wonderfully surreal and the game produced some equally peculiar clues in what ended up as a close game. Blue took an early lead, but it couldn’t last and, everyone else closed, pausing for just a brief interlude to sing Auld Lang Syne and watch fireworks (it was raining, so we “wimped out” of setting off our own and just admired everyone else’s from the warm; one group were especially obliging and set off some very nice ones just outside the window!). White snuck ahead of Blue with the last point of the game, and took the first win of 2014 adding it to her last win of 2013. This was in contrast to Red who lost both the last game of 2013 and the first game of 2014!

Dixit

Learning Outcome:  Cold pizza isn’t that bad after all!

Essen 2013

Although Essen is a small German city in the industrial heartland on the River Ruhr, it is used by gamers to refer to the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world, The Internationale Spieltage (which is held in Essen of course).  The fair runs for four days every year and everyone who is anyone goes.   As in most years, a lot of new and exciting games are released at the Fair.  This year, amongst other things, this includes an expansion for one of our favourite games, Keyflower.  The expansion is called Keyflower:  The Farmers and introduces animals to the game.  There are also expansions being released for Snowdonia and Tzolk’in:  The Mayan Calendar, both of which are excellent games and have been enjoyed by members of the group.  In addition to expansions to known games, there are (of course) lots of exciting new games, including Rockwell, Glass Road, Expedition: Northwest Passage, Amerigo and loads of others!  Those of us that are lucky enough to be going are sure to bring back some exciting new toys to play with over the next few weeks.

Essen