Tag Archives: Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra

29th October 2019

Blue and Pink were first on the scene, armed with special deliveries from Essen and some new exciting toys to play with.  Burgundy, Pine, Lime and Green weren’t far behind and soon those that hadn’t eaten earlier were tucking in.  Inevitably, the conversation was all about the games fair in Essen and how much it had grown – this year, according the organisers, there were over 209,000 participants, ten percent more than last year.  There were also one thousand two hundred exhibitors from fifty-three nations, occupying six large halls, around twice the hall space when Green last went.

Essen 2019
– Image by boardGOATS

As people arrived, they received their consignments.  Purple and Black got their sadly rather squished copy of the new release, Fast Sloths complete with Expansion and Chameleon promo, a copy of the new portable set of Settlers of Catan (“Catan Traveller“) and a several bags of German lebkuchen biscuits.  Burgundy got his annual Concordia expansion (the Balearica/Cyprus map) and the European Birds expansion for Wingspan.  This last game was one of the sell-out games at Essen, and Blue and Pink had been at the front of what became a very long queue to get it.  That said, the length was probably more to do with the fact that it was also the queue to get a hand on one of the fifty English language copies of Tapestry at the show. Given the fact that Wingspan is very popular at the moment and it would need very little learning, the new expansion was “Feature Game” for the night.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is relatively simple, with players collecting birds for their reserves.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions/habitats, and then starting with the card furthest to the right in that habitat, activating each card in turn.  The actions associated with the habitats are spending food to play cards; getting food; laying eggs, and more drawing bird cards.  Players start with eight possible actions per turn, which gradually reduces to five over the course of the four rounds of the game.  All the bird cards in the game have actions that fit with their real-life behaviour.  For example, the food needed to play cards closely resembles their diet, the number of eggs each bird has in their nest is proportionately correct and bonus actions are associated with birds that flock and birds of prey.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The European Expansion adds more birds that mostly do more of the same thing, but includes birds that have new end of round powers.  There were enough copies for everyone to play, so we set up two games in tandem.  Blue, Green and Pink helped Burgundy christen his new copy, while Black, Purple, Ivory, Pine and Lime gave Blue and Pink’s copy it’s first outing.  After making sure all the new cards were thoroughly shuffled into the deck, Burgundy’s group were first to get started.  The end of round objectives were particularly awkward as the final round rewarded players with the most birds without eggs on nests (one of the new objective tiles).

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue started off very well, but then her game stalled as she struggled to find useful cards.  Burgundy wasn’t far behind and his very hungry Griffon Vulture seemed to be very effective when it came to catching mice.  Blue’s Barred Owl was also successful on almost every occasion it went hunting while Green’s Northern Harrier repeatedly went hungry.  Meanwhile, Pink was building a very fine reserve with lots of high value birds, although he felt they didn’t give him such effective actions.  With Blue struggling to get anything she could play and Green muttering about not understanding the game, it was left to Pink and Burgundy to fight it out.  In the end, although Pink had far more interesting birds, Burgundy did much better with his personal objectives and end of round objectives, giving him a total of seventy-three points, nine more than Pink in second place.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

On the neighbouring table, everyone started off slowly.  Black grabbed one of the new European birds that allowed him to steal food which he used to great effect.  Black and Lime also took one of the new end of round bonus cards each which allowed them both to tuck cards.  Pine played a Long-tailed Tit, one of the new double space birds, allowing him to get lots of food. Ivory focused on cards with activation powers and in the second round, he and Lime built egg laying engines, with Lime making good use of his Fish Crow which allowed him to exchange eggs for food. Purple struggled due to the lack of fish, clearly having an eye on the last round objective (most birds in wetlands).

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Both Pine and Lime struggled seeing and understanding the cards, but despite this, both managed to get effective engines going, particularly Lime.  By the end, Black had lots of valuable birds and did well on his objectives and Pine missed out on a seven point objective bonus by just by one corn eating bird (getting three points instead). Black also did well on tucked cards, as did Lime.  Everyone drew for the first end of round objective (most birds in any row), with Ivory followed by Lime for the second (most birds with “brown powers”).  Lime managed to win the third round objective battle (most grassland birds), edging Ivory into second place, but the final round (most wetland birds), was a three-way tie between Ivory (again!), Pine and Purple who all had the maximum number of birds in their wetland.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Although he did well on objectives, in the final round Ivory’s primary focus was on getting as many eggs laid as possible and he finished with a massive twenty-seven, a significant contributor to his final, winning score of seventy-nine, seven more than Black in second place and ten more than Lime in third.  There was the inevitable comparisons between the two games, and when Ivory asked whether people felt the expansion had made much difference to the game, opinions seemed divided.  Having birds he could see in his garden had made a big difference to Pine, though to those people who were less interested in our feathered friends and more interested in the game play, the expansion had made less of an impact.  For those that have it though, the European expansion will no-doubt remain a permanent feature.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The four-player game including Burgundy, Pink, Blue and Green finished first by some margin, giving them time to play something else.  With Blue and Pink having exchanged last year’s variant on the 2018 Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul (Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra), for this Essen’s latest model, Azul: Summer Pavilion, this seemed a good time to give it an outing.  All three games are based round a clever “market” mechanism:  players take all the tiles of one colour from one of the stalls and put the rest in the central pool, or take all the tiles of one colour from the central pool.  In the original game and in the second iteration, these are placed straight away in a tableau, with the original representing a mosaic and the second a stained glass window.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

In the new, Summer Pavilion variant, tiles taken from the market are put to one side for the second phase when players take it in turns to place them on their personal player board.  Where the tiles in the first two versions are square (opaque and clear plastic respectively), in the new edition, they are rhombus-shaped.  Instead of rows, each player’s tableau consists of stars made  up of six rhombi.  In this game, as they add pieces players score points for the size of the block.  For example, adding a piece to an existing partial star consisting of two pieces gives three points.  Thus, increasing the size progressively yields increasing amounts of points.  Although this is an obvious difference, the biggest difference in the game play is the cost of placing tiles and the use of “Wilds”.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Each space on a player’s tableau has a number on it: one to six.  This is the cost to place a tile in that space.  So, placing on a six-space means they place one tile on the board and five in the tile tower.  The tiles must all match the colour being placed, however, every round, one of the six colours is “Wild” and this can be used as a substitute.  The Wild colour affects the tile drawing phase too:  Wilds cannot be chosen from the market, however, if there is are Wilds present in the market, one (and only one) must be taken as well.  For example, if there are two blue tiles, a red and a green (which is Wild), the player can take the two blues and the green, or the red and the green, but cannot take the green alone.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

There are several bonuses, both in game and end game.  Players who surround certain features on their tableau get to take extra tiles from a second, special market.  This helps grease the wheels and makes the decision space a little more interesting too.  At the end of the game, players get bonus points for completing stars and for covering all the “ones”, all the “twos” etc..  The stars give different numbers of points depending on the colour.  Each tableau has one of each colour available and one central multicolour star in which every tile must be a different colour.  At the end of the game, the player with the most points is the winner.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Blue had found time to punch the pieces in advance, she had not been able to read the rules properly so did it on the fly – the rules are not long, nor are they complex.  That said, this version certainly adds strategic depth compared with the original, without the fiddliness of the second version.  Without any experience, there were no clear strategies.  Blue targeted the bonus points for the must lucrative, purple star and the central star as “low hanging fruit”, while Pink went for the in-game bonus tiles and picked up the extras for completing all the “ones” and “twos”, but didn’t quite make the “threes”.  Burgundy played for some of the less valuable stars and Green struggled to get anything to work at all.  It was really close, with only one point between Blue and Burgundy, and Pink just a handful of points behind him.

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

This was a brand new game, never played by anyone round the table, so inevitably, something got missed in the rules.  In both the base game, Azul, and the follow-up, Stained Glass of Sintra, the first person to take tiles from the central pool in each round takes the first player marker and a penalty for doing so.  The same is true here, but unlike the base game, the size of the penalty depends on the number of tiles taken with the first player token.  Everyone played by the same rules, so nothing was “unfair” and nobody noticed any balance issues, however, in such a close game it is very likely to have made a difference.  We’ll get it right next time!

Azul: Summer Pavilion
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Essen is Awesome!

20th August 2019

It was ominously gloomy and empty in pub the when Khaki and Mulberry arrived.  With Blue away for work, she had left the logbook with the landlord and it was sadly sitting on the table waiting for them.  Fearing the repercussions of ignoring the demanding tome, they ordered food and took their places at the table.  They were soon joined by Burgundy, Purple, Black, Lime and Ivory, making it a decent turn-out for a meeting that was very nearly cancelled.

The Book - 20/08/19
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the feeding was over and done with, it was time to organise people to play games.  Purple, Mulberry and Lime began with the “Feature Game”, Ivor the Engine.  This is a great little game with fantastic artwork from the late, great Peter Firmin.  Although it is designed round a the children’s cartoon, the cute artwork belies the viscous little teeth the game has.  The idea is that players move their wagon round the board, playing cards to carryout errands which are paid in sheep – the player with the most sheep at the end of the game is the winner.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the game the board is randomly filled with lost sheep. On their turn, the active player begins by collecting a sheep at their current location, if one is available, receiving bonus sheep if they take the last sheep in a location. Then they play cards and move their wagon playing cards before or after they move.  There is one free movement and others can be bought with coal.  The active player can play as many or as few cards as they wish, but there is a tight hand-limit of four cards and only one card can be played at each location. The cards can be used in one of two ways:  they can provide a special action (e.g. extra moves or moving sheep about), or if the active player is at a location where there are no sheep, they can use them to complete a “Job” receiving sheep as a reward.  Finally, players take a card from the face-up display discarding a card if necessary.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

It seems very gentle at first glance, but there are a couple of things that make the game quite strategic.  Firstly, only one player can be in a location at any one time, which can be surprisingly inconvenient for players who have built a plan and a hand of job cards only to be obstructed by another player squatting in the wrong place.  With cards at such a premium it is also surprisingly irritating when another player takes a desired card.  Managing these is key to being successful, but the nastiest part of the game are the event cards.  At the end of a player’s turn, they draw cards from the deck to replace any they have taken and place them face up in the display.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

If an Event card is revealed, then the actions must be carried out by everyone – some are nice, some are slightly inconvenient, others are downright nasty.  For example, some Events cause players to move their wagon to the other end of the board which can be very helpful or extremely frustrating depending on the player’s plans.  Players can also be forced to forfeit sheep, or worse, hard won resources or Job cards.  Like Job cards, Event cards are also dual purpose, and (once the Event has been resolved) can be taken from the “market” at the end of a turn, like Job cards.  They are valuable though, providing a means to score more at the end of the game, so they must be bought using gold, which is very rare and difficult to come by.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple explained the rules very thoroughly as there are a couple of slightly fiddly exceptions, for example, it costs two coal to move along the main line, but eventually the game got going.  Everyone started on the same side of the board and got in each other’s way a bit.  Lime struggled a bit in a game that can be quite unforgiving despite it’s cute graphics and child-friendly theme.  Things improved for him as he picked up six sheep on his final turn.  Mulberry’s game started well, but in contrast to Lime, fizzled out towards the end.  Purple got lucky as she picked up sheep throughout and cards that were conveniently close to her current position.  Purple’s experience ensured she capitalised on her good fortune, finishing five points ahead of Lime, with thirty-three.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile on the next table, “the boys” were playing Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra.  This was released last year at Essen and uses the market mechanism from the 2018 Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul.  The idea is of this is that on their turn, players take all the pieces of one colour from a market and place the left-overs in the middle, or, take all the tiles of one colour from the middle.  In Stained Glass of Sintra, instead of placing these pieces in a row and moving them onto a grid, pieces are placed directly into the player’s window.  This is modular consisting of the double-sided strips laid out at random so everyone has a different starting setup.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

There are restrictions on how the pieces can be placed though:  tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below their Glazier meeple, or in a strip to its right.  The Glazier is then placed above the strip the tiles were placed in,, so he gradually moves to the right. Instead of taking tiles, players can choose to reset the Glazier’s position, moving him back to the left most strip.  Players get points when strips are completed scoring the sum of the score depicted below the strip and any strips to the right that have already been completed. There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed. Any left over tiles that cannot be placed are placed into the glass tower and yield a penalty with players moving along a negative score track which has small steps at the start that gets larger. When the market is empty the round ends and the round indicator tile is also dropped into the glass tower which is emptied when the .  There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Kahki started, but was the only one new to the game and didn’t know what he was doing.  Somehow though he managed to build a lead which kept growing. Black and Burgundy weren’t far behind although there was a lot of smashed orange “glass” when Burgundy was forced to pick up eight orange pieces but only had space for four.  Ivory struggled and there was yet more broken orange glass when he picked up twelve orange pieces, only having space for two.  As a result, there were a lot of penalty points at the end, and it was only a surprise to Kahki that he was the winner by some twenty points.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

The Ivor group had barely finished the rules explanation by this point, so the group moved on to play Splendor.  This is one of our most popular games, but has largely degenerated into an exercise in trying to beat Burgundy as he wins every time.  The game is a very simple engine builder, where players can either take “gem” chips on their turn, or use them to buy a card from the display.  Cards then provide a perpetual “gem” allowing players to buy more expensive cards which give points.  Points are also provided by “Noble” tiles which are revealed at the start of the game and are won by the first player to get a certain combination of gem cards.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, all the Noble tiles needed rubies (red), but very few ruby cards came out.  Ivory started well taking an early lead with a few low scoring cards before Khaki caught up him taking a three point card. Burgundy made a very slow start, reserving a couple of cards while Black picked up a few points here and there.  Ivory took the first Noble and managed to fight his way to fourteen points, but then the inevitable happened.  Burgundy’s game suddenly snowballed and a couple of rounds later he bought his last reserved card and, as the last player in the round, brought the game to an end.  Burgundy finished on sixteen points, just two ahead of Ivory who took second place in what was a very tight game where Burgundy was pushed right to the wire, albeit with the usual result.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

By this time, Ivor was finally finished, and Khaki and Mulberry headed off for an early night, leaving everyone else to play Alhambra.  This, the 2003 Spiel des Jahres winner, is a tile laying game where players are building their city.  Basically, on their turn, the active player may take money from the open money market; purchase a building from the building market and either place it in their Alhambra or their reserve, or engage in construction and re-construction projects with buildings that had been placed in the player’s Alhambra or their reserve.  The core of the game is the market, where players buy building tiles with coloured money cards and add them to their Alhambra.  This key purchasing mechanism comes from its predecessor, Stimmt So!.

Alhambra
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

There are four different currencies which come in different colours.  At the start of a player’s turn, there are four tiles available, each in a different coloured market, which can only be purchased with the currency that matches the market’s colour.  If the active player can pay with exactly the correct amount, they can buy another tile, but if they over-pay, they get no change and their turn ends.  While this all sounds simple enough, there is the little problem that sets Alhambra apart from Stimmt So!:  most of the tiles have walls along one, two or three edges, and when placed, these must match up without partitioning the Alhambra.  The walls are critical as poor play in the early stages can mean it is possible to get backed into a corner later in the game.

Alhambra
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

There are fifty-four tiles in six different types, each type in a different colour. They are Pavilions (Blue), Manors/Seraglios (Red), Mezzanines/Archades (Brown), Chambers (White), Gardens (Green) and Towers (Purple).  Most tiles have one or more walls around the edges and each tile also shows numerical value from two to thirteen, which is their cost.  Each of the six different building types in a player’s Alhambra score in each of the scoring phases, with players receiving points for having the most of each type in the first scoring round.  In the second scoring round the player in second place also scores and in the final scoring round points are also available for third place in each building type.  Points are also awarded in each scoring round for players’ longest external “wall” section within their complex.

Alhambra
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

The game ends when the building market can no longer be replenished from the building tile supply, and there is a final scoring, whereupon the player with the highest score wins.  In this game, the distribution of tiles was very uneven, with all the Tower tiles coming out early and and the Manor and Garden tiles coming out late.  Ivory took an early lead after the first scoring round having picked up a lot of the early Towers.  It was not to last though.  Alhambra is a game that rewards efficiency, and Black and Burgundy both made the most of paying exactly the right amount and taking extra turns, while Ivory and Lime fell into the trap of putting tiles into their reserve which cost them an extra turn to place them in their Alhambras.

Alhambra
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

While Purple had the most Towers in the second scoring round, others had caught up by the third and final scoring round.  As a result, Towers finished in a three-way tie, so nobody scored well.  Lime finished with the longest wall taking a massive fifteen points in the final scoring phase, but unfortunately he did not have enough points elsewhere to trouble the leaders, Burgundy and Black.  Burgundy also had a substantial wall, giving him twelve points, and with his Gardens and Pavillions, he took a creditable second place, but was some way behind Black who finished with over a hundred points thanks to having the most Chambers and coming second in many of the other buildings and generally being efficient throughout.

Alhambra
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

Learning Outcome: boardGOATs can survive without Blue and Green as long as Purple is around.

Deutscher Spiele Preis 2019 – Time to Vote

Like every other sphere, boardgames also receive awards, the best known of which is probably the Spiel des Jahres.  The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize, is slightly less well known, but arguably better reflects the slightly more advanced, “Gamers Games”.  There is usually quite a lot of overlap with the recommendations, nominees and winners of the Spiel des Jahres Awards, but the Deutscher Spiele Preis typically rewards a slightly heavier game, often more in line with Kennerspiel des Jahres category.  This is especially likely to be true this year as the family Spiel des Jahres award, or “Red Pöppel” nominees, are particularly light.  The most recent winners of the Deutscher Spiele Preis include, Azul, Terraforming Mars, Mombasa, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Russian Railroads and Terra Mystica, with only Azul, last year’s winner, featuring strongly in the Spiel des Jahres awards (the first game to win both awards since Dominion in 2009).

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Game weight is not the only difference between the two awards:  The Spiel des Jahres nominees and winners are selected by a committee with a clearly defined list of criteria, whereas the Deutscher Spiele Preis (which is awarded at the International Spieltage, in Essen), is selected by a general vote which is open to anyone, players, journalists and dealers alike.  The incoming votes are evaluated by an independent institute and only votes with details of the full name and address are valid (any duplicates are removed).   All votes are treated the same with games placed first receiving five points, those placed second receiving four and so on.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Only new games from the previous year are included in the ranking, so this year that’s games released since May 2018.  Thus anything new at Essen last year or the Spielwarenmesse (Nürnberg) this year, is eligible.  This includes Architects of the West Kingdom, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra (the sequel to last year’s winner Azul), Dice Settlers, Endeavor: Age of Sail, Everdell, Key Flow, Newton, Reykholt, Solenia, and Teotihuacan: City of Gods, as well all the nominees and recommendations for the Spiel des Jahres award, like L.A.M.A., Wingspan and Carpe Diem.

Deutscher Spielepreis 2019
– Image from spiel-messe.com

Voting is open until 31st July and there are hundreds of free games and tickets for the International Gamedays at Essen to win.  It’s not necessary to submit a full list, so why not take the opportunity to vote for your favourite release of the year?

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2019

Every year, in May, the nominees are announced for the most prestigious award in board gaming, the Spiel des Jahres.  There are typically three categories, the Kinderspiel (children’s game) , the Kennerspiel (“expert’s” game) and the most desirable of all, the family award, the Spiel des Jahres.  The nominees for this year’s award have been announced as:

Last year the group picked out the eventual winner, Azul, after playing it at Essen, but this year nobody really had much idea of what would be nominated.  While we enjoyed the sequel to Azul, Stained Glass of Sintra, we felt it was not in the same league as its predecessor.  This year the games generally seem to be light, almost party games.  Our personal favourite for the “Red Poppel” was probably Echidna Shuffle, but we knew that was unlikely to make the cut for other reasons.  Those who had played it felt that Teotihuacan: City of Gods was in with a shout for the Kennerspiel award, but in truth, that it was probably a little too complex.  Wingspan was the only game from this year’s nominees that the group had really picked up on, and is planned as a “Feature Game” for later in the year.

Usually the Kennerspiel Prize winners are a good fit to our group, but this year they are also largely unknown to us, so there is clearly a lot to discover before the winners are announced in Berlin on 22nd July (Kinderspiel des Jahres winners will be announced a month earlier in Hamburg on 24th June).

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

 

30th April 2019

For a while, it looked a lot like the “Feature Game”, Lewis & Clark , wasn’t going to happen – it’s a longer game and one that requires a specific type of gamer.  Of the usual candidates for this sort of game, Burgundy had given notice that he was feeling under the weather, so wouldn’t be coming; Blue was in attendance but was feeling a bit off-colour too; Black wasn’t in the mood for something heavy; Mulberry was recovering from jet-lag so needed an early night, and Green and Ivory hadn’t arrived by 8pm.  Inevitably though, we were just deciding what else to play when Green and Ivory turned up and looked keen to give Lewis & Clark a go.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

With Blue joining them, that left Black, Purple, Mulberry and Pine (who was celebrating coming off his antibiotics again), to come up with something to play.  While everyone played musical chairs, suggested games and admired Blue’s shiny new copy of Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry (freshly muled from the US by Mulberry), the foursome decided to play Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra.  This is the new implementation of last year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul, which features the same market, but with glass pieces instead of ceramic tiles.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

The differences are more than cosmetic though – instead of placing their pieces in a row and moving them onto a grid, pieces are placed directly into the player’s window.  This is modular consisting of the double-sided strips laid out at random so everyone has a different starting setup.  There are restrictions on how the pieces can be placed though:  tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below their Glazier meeple, or in a strip to its right.  The Glazier is then placed above the strip the tiles were placed in,, so he gradually moves to the right. Instead of taking tiles, players can choose to reset the Glazier’s position, moving him back to the left most strip.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Players get points when strips are completed scoring the sum of the score depicted below the strip and any strips to the right that have already been completed. There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra. Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed. Any left over tiles that cannot be placed are placed into the glass tower and yield a penalty with players moving along a negative score track which has small steps at the start that gets larger. When the market is empty the round ends and the round indicator tile is also dropped into the glass tower which is emptied when the .  There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was new to the game and had not even played the original Azul, despite it having been so popular within the group.  Pine, Purple and Black had, of course, played the original game many times, but were less familiar with the Stained Glass of Sintra variation and Pine at least had played it just once.  It was a tight game and it wasn’t clear who was going to win until the end of the sixth and final round when it became apparent that Black was in a good position to make a killing and probably take an insurmountable lead.  Unfortunately, for him, he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by putting his red glass pieces in the wrong place.  Pine meanwhile had made  a bit of a mess of things elsewhere which left him a score of minus ten for his unused tiles, but this wasn’t enough to knock him of the top of the podium where he sat two points ahead of Black in second and a few more ahead of Mulberry in third.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry needed an early night to help with the jet-lag and Lewis & Clark was still underway, so the remaining three decided to play a recently released game, Gingerbread House.  In this game players are witches in the Enchanted Forest, building their gingerbread house and attracting hungry fairy tale characters with colorful gingerbread.  Each player has a player board showing a three-by-three grid of building spaces with a symbol on each space.  They also have a pile of rectangular tiles each featuring two squares showing two symbols, a bit like dominoes, which are placed face-down in a stack with the top three turned face up (a little like the train cards in Ticket to Ride).  On their turn, players draw one of the face up tiles and place it on their player board, then carry-out the effect of the symbols they covered up.  The most likely symbol is one of the four different types of gingerbread, which means they collect a token of that type.

Gingerbread House
– Image by boardGOATS

Sometimes a player wants to cover two squares on different levels, in which can “stair” tiles can be used as a spacer; players can also receive these as an effect of placing tiles, or they receive two stair tiles if they forfeit their turn.  Other effects include the opportunity to swap one type of gingerbread for another or cage a fairy tale character.  If the two symbols covered are the same, the player gets the effect three times instead of twice adding a positioning element to the tile placement.  Once a tile has been placed, the active player can use some of their gingerbread tokens to capture fairy-tale characters, either from the face up character line or from their “cage” trap near the gate of their cottage.  If placing tiles completed a level, the active player may take a bonus card (up to a maximum of three).

Gingerbread House
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, who had not played the game before went for a very tall house combo, taking a “Chimney” bonus tiles which reward players with eight or more levels (complete or incomplete) and a “Treasure Chest” bonus which would give points if his had at least four complete levels.  Black started off capturing the most valuable fairy tale creatures and then added the “Magic Wand” bonus card which gave him even more points.  Purple meanwhile, also concentrated on the characters she was capturing, taking the “Cauldron” bonus, which rewarded her for catching non-human characters.  Black’s strategy was very effective and, although the characters are hidden once they are taken, so it was no surprise that he was well in front, scoring as many points for his characters alone as Purple and Pine scored in total.  It was really close for second place, however, but Pine just pipped Purple by a single point.

Gingerbread House
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Ivory, Green and Blue had been playing the “Feature Game”, Lewis & Clark.  This is a resource collecting race game, with a deck building element.  Players are explorers trying to get from St. Louis to Fort Clatsop, traveling up the Missouri River over the Rocky and Bitterroot Mountains through Montana and Idaho, and down the Columbia River to the Oregon coast.  Players do this by playing character cards from their hand which provide actions including gathering resources, traveling or converting primary resources into secondary resources.  There are several very unusual things about the game.  Firstly, each card has a power as well as an action.  Whenever a character card is played it must be empowered either by playing a second card and using it’s power rating, using natives, or a combination of both.  This dictates how many times the action is carried out (up to a maximum of three).

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Once a card has been played, either as an action or to activate another card, they are placed on the player’s personal discard pile, so there is also an element of deck-building to the game, with more characters available through the “Journal” .  Of course, the most exciting cards are those with the highest rating, so using them to activate other cards may be efficient, but means that action will not be available until the deck is recycled.  This is another interesting and clever aspect of the game:  each player has their “Scout” and their “Camp”, and they move their scout along the rivers and through the mountains and then, when they “make camp”, they move the camp to join the Scout and pick up all their used cards.  This is a similar mechanism to that used in K2 where players have tents to shelter in, however, in Lewis & Clark the key part is that there are “time penalties” that penalise inefficiencies, like any unused character cards.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as the cost associated with inefficient use of their characters, there are also penalties for hoarding resources.  In order to travel players need buffalo (or bison…?), canoes, and horses, Acquiring canoes and horses require other resources and these must be transported to the new camp by boat—the more resources a player has when their camp moves, the more costly it will be.  Each player’s expedition also has a number of natives, and these also travel by boat.  Players start with five boats three that will hold resources and two for the natives; transporting two resources and one native is free, but the costs increase significantly when more travel.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Another interesting mechanism used in the game is way players gather some of the resources.  Each player starts with action cards that generate the four primary resources, wood, equipment, fur and food (depicted by buffalo, or bison—what’s the difference?  You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo…).  These have a brown, grey, pink or yellow icon associated with them and each character card depicts one of these.  When a player plays, for example, a lumberjack card, they get wood equivalent to the number of visible brown icons visible in front of them, but also those displayed by their each of their neighbours.  Thus, if a player has two wood icons in front of them, and their neighbours have another two each, they would get up to six wood (enough to make four canoes), and if they activated that card three times, that would increase to eighteen.  If both neighbours decided to make camp, however, they would pick up all their cards and playing that lumberjack activated once would then only yield two wood.  Thus, timing is critical and one turn can make all the difference.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Instead of playing a character card, on their turn, players can take a village action by placing a native on the board.  Some of these locations, like the Hunter space, can only hold one native, so the player can only take the action once and nobody else can visit the Hunter to get food and fur until the space has been vacated.  Other spaces like the Canoe Maker, can be visited many times, so a player who has a lot of wood can turn them into up to three canoes.  Natives can also visit the Shaman, which enables players to repeat another player’s Character card.  This turned out to be really important as spaces are only emptied when a player plays their Interpreter card.  The Interpreter calls all natives on the board to a powwow in the middle of the village and then as many of these natives as desired can be recruited for that player’s expedition.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Once per turn, before or after the compulsory action (playing a Character card or deploying a native in the village), players can make camp and recruit new Characters from the face up cards drawn from the Journal deck.  Each character has an intrinsic cost in equipment, as well as a cost in fur dependent on it’s position in the Journal.  There is a potential for hands to become full of unwanted cards, however, it is possible to use one card to pay part of the cost.  Additionally, there is a location in the village, “Farewell” that players can use to discard cards and also refresh the Journal.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Although the game seems to take an inordinately long time to play, it is not actually that complicated.  Essentially, players are trying to gather resources and use these to recruit helpful Characters and acquire secondary resources (horses and canoes) and then use these to travel along the rivers and through the mountain.  Although it seems simple, planning and timing is absolutely critical—getting it wrong can easily mean that a Scout finishes his round behind his camp so that the expedition fails to move forward.  The location of the mountains can mean that even a successful forward movement may be inefficient as The Commander (the movement Character card everyone starts with) only allows players to use canoes to move four spaces along the river and horses to move two spaces in the mountains.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory went first and began by collecting resources, followed by Blue and then Green.  Blue was the first to move and headed off up the river from St. Louis and then made camp.  Ivory and Green weren’t far behind, but when they came to make camp the time penalties they accrued meant they actually went backwards.  This is not always such a bad move in this game if it is due to building a robust engine for later in the game.  So in the first few rounds it looked like Blue had a massive lead, but that didn’t last as the others began the chase.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue was first into the mountains and then realised she had mis-read her expedition leader  card and found that horses would only move two spaces each through in the mountains, not four (like canoes).  The mountains are key to the game and particularly changing ovement and avoiding wasting moves.  Green thought he had it sussed with his Cut Nose Character card, but hadn’t checked the rules and just assumed that it would allow him to move one space through the mountains without needing any resources.  That would have made it a very powerful card, as trading for horses to get through the mountains requires three nonequivalent primary resources per horse (which moves two spaces).  He was very disappointed and, like Blue had to completely reconsider his options.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Ivory had a plan to get his expedition through the mountains.  His combination of the Black Cat and Coboway Character Cards meant he could collect any missing resources he needed easily and then use them to move fast through the mountains.  Inevitably, with Blue mired in the mess she had made, Ivory galloped into the lead, but he still had the Colorado river to negotiate before he could get past fort Clatsop and make camp.  For this he needed natives, but so did Blue.  Unfortunately for Blue, the fact that Ivory was ahead of her in the turn order meant he was able recruit more natives and it wasn’t long before his expedition paddled past the finishing line, and, despite a large time penalty, made camp on the Oregon coast, a very worthy winner in what had been a very enjoyable game.  Definitely one to play again.

Lewis & Clark
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Many native Americans have unpronounceable names.

5th March 2019

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple and Black quickly excused themselves from playing Key Flow, and with Blue, Burgundy and Green joining Ivory, the group divided into two with unusual alacrity.  Blue and Burgundy explained the rules, which though related to Keyflower (and by extension, Key to the City: London) with familiar iconography and similarly played over four seasons, give the game a very different feel.  Key Flow is a very smooth card drafting game, so players start with a hand of cards and choose to one to play and hand the rest on to the next player.  The cards come in three flavours:  village buildings, riverside buildings and meeples.  Village cards are placed in a player’s village, in a row extending either side of their starting home card.  Riverside tiles are placed in a row below, slightly off-set.  Meeple cards are used to activate Village cards by placing them above the relevant building.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

As in Keyflower, buildings provide resources, skill tiles, transport and upgrades.  They also provide meeple tokens which can be used to increase the power of meeple cards or activate a player’s own buildings at the end of the round.  Arguably the clever part is how the meeple cards work.  At the centre of each card there are a number of meeples which dictate the power of the card.  A single meeple card can be played on any empty building; a double meeple card can be played on an empty building or one where one other card has already been played.  If two cards have already been played, a triple meeple card is required to activate it a third and final time.  Alternatively, a lower power meeple card can be played with one of the meeple tokens, which upgrade a single meeple card to a triple meeple card.  Double meeple cards can also be upgraded, but each building can only be activated a maximum of three times per round.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

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

13th Movember 2018

There was a bit of a delay for food, so after Blue had handed over an exciting box of echidnas to Pine and given Burgundy and Green a selection of Splendor, Orléans, and Zooloretto promo cards from Essen, we decided to play something quick.  As there were a lot of hungry people, we decided to start with a quick game of Om Nom Nom.  This is a fabulous little double think game based on critters eating other critters further down the food chain.  The game is set up with a large handful of dice which are rolled to give either items from the bottom of the food chains (flies, carrots and cheese) or animals from the middle of the food chains (frogs, rabbits and mice).  Players start with six cards representing animals from the middle of the food chain and the predators from the top of their food chains (hedgehogs, wolves and cats).  Players simultaneously choose a card to play and then everyone reveals them and they are placed on the appropriate space on the three central player boards. before and the animals begin to feed starting at the top of the food chain.  For example, wolves eat frogs and any surviving frogs then eat flies.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

If only one card of any type is played, the predator feeds and the player takes their card back with any cards/dice their animal has eaten placing everything in their scoring pile.  Where more than one card of the same type is played and there is enough food to go round it is shared equally and everyone eats (taking their cards back with their share of the prey).  If there is not enough food for everyone to get a share, they all starve and lose their cards going home with nothing.  This is repeated until there are no cards left.  Food at the bottom of a chain is worth two points at the end of the game and food from the middle of a chain and any cards are worth one point.  The game is played over three rounds and the winner is the player with the most points.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue won the first round with eleven, more than twice the points anyone else managed to gather.  Om Nom Nom is one of those games where a high score in one round is usually balanced by a dreadful score in the next, so everyone expected Blue to fail to score at all in the second round.  Burgundy’s twelve points in the second round looked really good, but contrary to the usual run of things, Blue somehow managed to improve her score picking up eighteen points—one less than the record for a single round in our group.  The third round was a little bit of a dead rubber, but Burgundy was keen to see Blue get her bad round and if she did, fancied his chances.  It was a much more even final round and with lots of points available, things looked good for Burgundy, but unfortunately for him, everyone else chose this round to get it together.  In the end it was all about second place, which Burgundy just managed to take ahead of Black and Mulberry as food arrived.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

While Burgundy, Blue and Mulberry ate their belated supper, everyone else carried on the food theme, playing a little Japanese game picked up by Black and Purple at Essen called くだものフレンズ or Fruit Friends.  This is a little card drafting and set collecting game where players are collecting different types of fruit using the “I divide, you choose” mechanism.  There are a surprisingly few games that use this idea, but two of the best are …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake) and San Marco.  …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne is relatively unusual as it works well with players dividing the pie into more than three.  In contrast, San Marco is a three to four player game, but plays much better with three than four because the “I divide, you choose” mechanism generally works best when the pile is divided into three.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

In Fruit Friends, each player starts with a random start or “seed” card, dealt face up.  Players are then dealt seven cards which they divide into three piles of two (discarding the final card).  Beginning with the player who was dealt the apple start card, players offer the three piles to the player on their left who takes one pair; the next player then chooses from the remaining two piles leaving one pair for the active player.  Play continues in this way until everyone’s cards have been taken.  The second round is played the same way except cards are offered anti-clockwise and the player with the grapes start card goes first.  The final round is clockwise again, and the player with the kiwi start card begins.  At the end of the game, each player has eighteen fruit cards, with each type scoring differently.

1 card 2 card 3 card 4 card 5+ cards
Apples 0 points 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points (max)
Grapes 2 points 5 points 8 points 11 points 11 points (max)
Kiwis 2 points 6 points 0 points 12 points 18 points (max)
Bananas 3 points 7 points 12 points 0 points 0 points
Peaches 2 points 5 points 9 points 14 points 20 points (max)

There are some catches, for example, peaches come in two colours, yellow and white, but only one of them scores.  Oranges score one point per apple card and similarly melons score one point per grape card (both up to a maximum of four points). The scoring intervals also offer some quirks, so while almost everyone scored twelve points for their bananas at the end of the game, Ivory went “Banana Bust” by over-shooting.  Otherwise it was close at the top and you could fit the first four players in a fruit-basket with only five points between them.  It was Purple, the “Kiwi Queen”, who just had the edge, “pipping” Green by a single point with Pine and Black finishing in joint third.

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

By the time the game came to an end, the eaters had mostly finished, so Black started getting out the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium (also described previously as “the one with the elephant on the box”).  Burgundy and Ivory were quick to stake a claim to play it and Purple was equally quick to opt out.  Mulberry and Blue made up the five, so Green started to collect together the games he thought the rest might play, which Pine pointed out just made it look like he was playing Jenga with boardgames.  It took a while to come to a conclusion, but eventually the trio went for Echidna Shuffle.

Jenga
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is a game that we first discovered at the UK Games Expo back in June and since then, has been very popular with everyone who has played it.  This is partly because of the fabulous, over-produced pieces, especially the lovely echidnas with cute smiley faces.  The game is very simple:  Players have to get their bugs to their tree-stumps by moving echidnas around the board.  On their turn the active player rolls the die, and moves echidnas a total of that number of spaces.  The clever part is that players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine moves.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

There are two sides to the game board:  green “Summer” and snowy “Winter”.  There was some discussion as to which to play.  Pine thought the Summer side of the board rather than the Winter side was more of a challenge.  He explained that it was more confusing on the snowy side and that it is not so easy to block people.  On the other hand, the first time it was played with the Summer side, the game had become something of an epic marathon as everyone worked together to stop everyone else winning.  So this time the group started with the “advanced” Winter board and ended up with a very short game indeed.  After only about three rounds, Purple had got one of her bugs home and Green had managed two.  Then Pine surprised everyone and with a roll of seven managed to complete all three of his bugs and the game was over, almost before it had begun.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Echidna Shuffle is really meant to be a children’s game, so perhaps it should not have been a huge surprise that it ended quite so quickly.  Maybe Pine had had a point though, so unusually the game got a second chance, this time with the Summer board.  This second game, did indeed last longer, but was still relatively quick and before too long everyone had just one bug remaining each. Green was first to get to this point, but Purple and Pine managed to successfully block his route while they also got their second bug home.  In the end Pine became the “Kingmaker” as everyone knew how many moves each player would get and he found himself in the position where he could either move the echidna out of purples way and into Green’s or do something else entirely. Either action (or inaction) would result in win for either Green or Purple and in the end he inevitably chose to open the door for Purple.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

It maybe that as a bunch of adult gamers, we have found the limit of this very pretty and lovable game.  On the other hand, the number of players also has quite an impact—the full compliment of six seems to have the effect of dragging out the Summer board, but the combination of a small number of players and the complexity of the Winter board appears to make the game too open.  Hopefully the company will bring out some new expansions or different board layouts that will give us more to explore, in the meantime, the game may get fewer outings in the weeks to come.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Because of the late start and the fact that Green wanted an early night, there wasn’t enough time for another medium-weight game, but it was still early enough for a short game. After some discussion, the trio agreed upon Walk the Plank!, a cute little programming game with a hefty dose of “take that”.  In programming games players choose the cards they are going to play before the round starts and then action them during the round, usually taking it in turns to reveal one card and then carry out the associated action.  One of the classic games of this type is Colt Express which won the Spiel des Jahres a few years ago, but Walk the Plank! is a quicker and simpler game.  The idea is each player has three pirate meeples on a ship and the last one remaining is the winner.  Players start each round by simultaneously choosing three cards and laying them face down in front of them.  On their turn, players turn over the top card and action it.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards allow players to do things like “shove” one of the meeples belonging to the player on their left, or to the player on their right.  When this is played a meeple that shares a space with one belonging to the active player is moved one step along the plank and thus closer to falling into the depths.  There are lots of other actions including “drag to ship”, “drag to sea” and “Charge!”, but the most exciting cards are probably the “retract the plank” cards.  At the start of the game the plank comprises three pieces, but usually at least one player removes one of these at the start of the game, heightening the stress levels. We usually play with a couple of house-rules too, firstly we play to the last meeple standing (the rules say the last two share victory) and we allow the plank to be completely removed (the rules say there is always one piece left).

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

We’ve loved the game for years and have several different editions within the group—this time we played with the “limited edition” which includes some optional extra cards.  This time two of the extra single use cards were added to each player’s deck:  “Parlay”, which gives a player a chance to turn the tables via a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, and “Dynamite”, which pushes everyone on one tile one space closer to the sea.  After a little shuffling about, Green played his “Dynamite”, but succeeded in sending two of his own men closer to the water as well as the others.  Then Purple played a “Charge!” card to try to push Green into the sea.  Green used his “Parlay” to see if he could to prevent it, but this ended up in hysterics thanks to a total inability to play the game correctly.  It started with Green playing on the count of three as agreed and Purple after the count of three (i.e. on four).  After multiple attempts including one where Purple ended up just pointing vaguely at Green everyone was in fits of giggles, but it didn’t look like the tie was anywhere nearer being resolved.

Rock-Paper-Scissors
– Image from theguardian.com

Pine suggested that perhaps they should try after the count instead.  Green duly obliged, but Purple had finally worked out how to play on the count of three and still the problem persisted.  Then Green chose stone and Purple also chose stone changing to paper at the last second, but this was spotted by Pine who ruled a “Let” and so they had to try yet again.  By this time everyone was laughing so hard that in a fit of confused giggles Purple then chose “none of the above” by using a single finger.  Pine suggested Green and Purple put their hands behind their backs, but this time it was Green’s turn to make a mess of things and he just couldn’t get the hang of it.  In the end, in an effort to stop Purple from soiling the furniture, Pine suggested they remove the counting element and play with closed eyes which was finally successful.  It was largely immaterial by this time, but Green won, so one of Purple’s pirates went charging off the plank into the sea.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Getting back to the game seemed tame by comparison. Everyone ended up back on the boat and then started moving forward again.  With the plank retracted, Green found himself with all three of his pirates on the end when Pine played his dynamite and Green was out in one go taking one of Purple’s and one of Pines own with him.  So Green became the Ghost and with two pirates versus one, it looked to be Pines game.  Two rounds later, though the Ghost shoved one of Pine’s pirates off the ship to level things up until Purple played her “Dynamite” and managed to get both dumped into the water, bringing the game to a shuddering halt, and on that note, Green headed home.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Imaginarium was still underway with no sign of finishing soon, so Pine and Purple decided to give Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a go as Pine had missed out last time.  As in the original game, Azul, players take all the tiles of one colour from a “factory” and put the rest in the middle, or they take all the tiles of one colour from the middle. Tile placement and scoring is rather different however. All the tiles taken in a turn are placed in a single column of the player’s personal player board. This board is modular with the double-sided strips laid out at random so everyone has a different starting setup.  Tiles must be placed in the strip immediately below the Glazier meeple, or in a strip to its right.  The Glazier is then placed above the strip the tiles were placed in.  Instead of taking tiles, players can choose to reset the Glazier’s position, moving him back to the left most strip.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Players get points when strips are completed scoring the sum of the score depicted below the strip and any strips to the right that have already been completed.  There is also a colour bonus—each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game, and any tiles that match the colour for the round score extra.  Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed.  Any left over tiles that cannot be placed yield a penalty with players moving along a negative score track which has small steps at the start that get larger.  There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

This is definitely a game that takes a at least one play to understand how it works and what the best way to score points is.  For example, the way the score builds, it is imperative to complete the furthest right strips early as then they score again and again.  However, they are relatively low scoring, so this is not the only important strategy. So while Pine started off well, Purple scored more later, especially when she picked up colour bonus point as well.  Early in the game, the penalty for picking up the first player token or for having left-over tiles is small, but it quickly increases, and with Pine taking the first player token more than Purple, he finished with more negative points too.  All the little extras combined to make it a bit of a landslide in Purple’s favour, but then Purple had the advantage of having played the game several times, so next time will surely be different.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

While these games had been going on, the “Feature Game”, Imaginarium was getting an outing.  Subtitled “The Dream Factory”, this game is a worker-placement, engine builder with a Steam Punk theme where players are building machines in a factory.  Beautifully produced with remarkable artwork, players first take it in turns to choose a position on the factory conveyor-belt.  They select either the broken machine card that they are going to buy or a position to collect charcoalium.  These are then carried out in “action” order which then also becomes the selection order for the next round.  At the end of the round any unused cards move long the conveyor-belt and the early positions are populated with new, exciting cards.  As the game progresses, the broken machine cards generally become more expensive, but the machines become more useful, producing more and/or higher value resources.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

On a player’s turn, their existing “machines” first produce resources, then the player must buy the broken machine card they had chosen. The active player finally carries out two actions dictated by an unusual clock mechanism:  each player has a board with the six possible actions arranged in a circle and the hands of the clock are fixed such that players are unable to take actions that are adjacent.  As the clock hands must be moved every round, players are only able to take repeat one action in consecutive rounds.  Possible actions include hiring a character, trading resources, extracting charcoalium, repairing broken machines and reorganising or dismantling existing machines.  When a machine card is taken from the conveyor-belt, it is broken, they must be repaired before they will work and produce resources.  Once repaired, machines can be combined to make them more efficient, or dismantled to give points, the game ends when one player gets to twenty points.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

One of Ivory’s questions before playing a new game is always, “Where are the points going to come from?” In addition to dismantling machines, points are also available for completing “projects” i.e. satisfying goals drawn at random at the start of the game, or by trading charcoalium.  There are also two points available for players who have the most of one of the four resources at the end of the game.  As the game was late starting, the group decided to end the game at fifteen points instead of twenty, though to begin with it didn’t look much like anyone was going to get to fifteen points before midnight.  Black assured everyone that people would pick up speed as the game progressed and eventually, Ivory got going completing the first of the projects and then Black and Blue followed.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is mostly multi-player solitaire, except when it’s not.  There are some machine cards that take resources from the other players.  In a game where resources are very tight and players are very reliant on resources for their plans this can be crucial.  The game also has a distinctly mean streak, as a player that is unable to pay for the card they have chosen, doesn’t get the card, but also loses all their resources, completely upsetting their plans and forcing them to start again from scratch, potentially losing them the game.  This is exactly what happened to Blue—Ivory went earlier in the turn order and bought and then repaired a machine that took all her charcoalium which meant she lost the card she was going to buy and all her resources.  She vowed to get her revenge, but the opportunities for that are few and far between.  As she waited for her chance, she gathered charcoalium to ensure she would be able to buy the right card when it came up.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Sadly for her, interaction in the game is minimal so there she never really got her chance.  Amassing large amounts of charcoalium wasn’t totally without use though as it enabled her to fulfill one of the projects and as they were playing to a smaller total, she started trading them in for points in an effort to avoid coming last.  Meanwhile, Ivory kept amassing points and Mullberry kept doing “the weird goat-head thing” which ensured she always had plenty of charcoalium and was starting to build a productive engine.  Black and Burgundy had also just got their engines going and were planning to score heavily when Ivory announced that he’d passed the fifteen point mark.  With Blue still to take her turn, she maximised her points and everyone added up their scores.  Sadly, for Black, Burgundy and Mullberry this wasn’t a long process as shortening the game had had the unforeseen consequence that the game ended just before their plans had come to fruition.  Much to her surprise, Blue had done rather better as she had stuck to short-term targets that lent themselves to the short game.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

There was only one winner though and Blue’s fourteen points flattered her position as the scores did not tell the true story of the game.  It’s definitely a game to try again sometime, though perhaps with fewer people which would give players a bit more control over their own destiny.  The artwork is somehow both amazing and very disturbing at the same, and it certainly had an unforeseen effect on Blue.  She is not normally one to remember dreams or one to design games, but when she awoke the next morning she had a fleeting recollection of dreaming about playing a card only version of Om Nom Nom that she had designed called “Yum Yum Tum”.  We will have to see if that ever comes to fruition.

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  When gamers are hungry they play games about eating.