Tag Archives: Azul

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2018

Almost every time we’ve played Azul, the topic of conversation has moved on to the Spiel des Jahres and how it would be a travesty if it did not receive at least a nomination. It was with this in mind that we read the Spiel des Jahres nominations when they were announced this morning.  There are three nominees in each of the three awards:  a children’s game award (Kinderspiel des Jahres), the “Advanced” or “Expert” Kennerspiel des Jahres, and the main Spiel des Jahres (often interpreted as the “Family Game” award).  In addition, for the first time since 2010, there is also a special award for Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 by Matt Leacock & Rob Daviau, reflecting Pandemic, Forbidden Island and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 that were all nominated, but failed to win a prize, and have had a significant influence on cooperative and legacy games as a whole.  The other nominees are:

  • Kinderspiel des Jahres
    Kinderspiel des JahresEmojito! by Urtis Šulinskas
    Funkelschatz (aka Dragon’s Breath) by Lena & Günter Burkhardt
    Panic Mansion (aka Shaky Manor) by Asger Harding Granerud & Daniel Skjold Pedersen
  • Spiel des Jahres
    Spiel des Jahres
    Azul by Michael Kiesling
    Luxor by Rüdiger Dorn
    The Mind by Wolfgang Warsch

Firstly, more than half of the nominees were designed by either Wolfgang Warsch, or Michael Kiesling, so huge congratulations to them.  In our view, Azul richly deserves it’s nomination and it would be no surprise if it ultimately wins the award.  Of the other two nominations for the “red pöppel”, The Mind has received quite a lot of attention, and is a bit like a cross between Hanabi and The Game (both of which have been acknowledged by the Jury in the past, in 2013 and 2015 respectively).  Luxor has a good pedigree as it is designed by Rüdiger Dorn (also designer of The Traders of Genoa, Goa, Istanbul, and one of our group favourites, Las Vegas), but it is a bit more of an unknown as it has only just come out.  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 23rd July (Kinderspiel des Jahres winners will be announced in Hamburg on 11th June).

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

 

3rd April 2018

Blue and Pink arrived first and, as they were early, they decided to get in a quick game of NMBR 9, while they waited for food and more people.  This is a game which is rapidly becoming one of our go-to fillers primarily thanks to it’s almost non-existent setup time.  This time, Blue turned over the cards, and Pink scratched his head a lot as he tried to work out what to do with his tiles.  Once a few tiles have been placed to form a base layer, then tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile.  This is essential as the higher the tiles are placed the more they score.  Unfortunately, the rule Pink forgot about was that tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile on that level.  “Cheating” didn’t do him much good though, as Blue won by more than thirty finishing with a massive eighty-one thanks largely to placing a seven on the fourth tier.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although a few of our regulars were missing (Green, Red and Ivory), they were ably replaced by a couple of our irregulars in Pink and Turquoise.  So while we made sure there were no more stragglers and Burgundy finished his inch thick slice of ham, we played another quick filler game, this time of 6 Nimmt!.  This has long been a favourite in the group, thanks to the fact that it plays a lot of people coupled with the hilarious way that a tenuous control of the game can catastrophically turn into chaos.  It is one of those games that is more difficult to explain than to play, but essentially each player has a hand of cards and simultaneously everyone chooses one to play.  Simultaneously, everyone then reveals their card and each card is added in turn to the end of one of the four rows of cards on the table.  Beginning with the lowest each card is added to the row with the highest number that is still lower than the active card.  The snag is, if anyone’s card is the sixth to be placed in a row, the first five are “won” and and the card becomes a new starting card.

– Image by boardGOATS

As well as a face value (one to a hundred and four), each card also has a “nimmt” value: most are one, but there are some as high as seven.  The player with the fewest nimmts at the end is the winner.  It has been somewhat neglected of late though, and has only been played once this year by the group, and then only just (it was the early hours of New Year’s Day), so it was definitely time for another outing.  Normally we play two rounds, dealing out approximately half the deck each time, but with so many of us all wanting to play, we decided to go for a single round and deal ten cards each.  This time Black and Purple were fighting it out for the unofficial wooden spoon, but that honour was reserved for Turquoise with a quite fantastic thirty-one.  At the other end, both Burgundy and Blue thought they might have got it with just three and one respectively, but it was Pink with a nice round zero who pipped them to it.

– Image by boardGOATS

Once the food and the nimmts had been dealt with and it was clear that no-one else was coming, the inevitable squabble began over who wanted to play the “Feature Game”.  This week it was Fabled Fruit, a very light worker-placement and set collecting card game with a “Legacy” element to it.  As such, the game is very simple, but develops as you play.  The idea is that the game starts with six “Locations”, each of which is formed by a deck of four cards.  On their turn the active player moves their meeple to one of the locations and either carries out the action shown on the cards in the deck or buys one card for the amount shown.  The locations provide access to “fruit cards”, which are the currency in the game and are used to buy the location cards.  Each location has a different action, for example, the first location enables the active player to draw two cards from the top of the fruit deck.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

On the other hand, Location Five allows the active player to draw cards until they have a hand of three—useful if they started with no cards, but not so helpful if they had a handful. At Location Six, the active player can turn over as many cards as they like, keeping all the unique cards they turn over, but go bust in a Port Royal sort of way if they turn over a duplicate card.  Since there are five different fruits, this action quickly becomes increasingly risky.  There are other actions, some of which add a bit more interaction, like giving a player a banana card and getting two cards in return or drawing one card from the fruit deck and then exchanging three fruit cards with another player.  A little more interaction comes from the fact that visiting an occupied location costs a fruit card: since location cards typically cost four or five fruit cards, this is expensive, especially with low player counts, but playing with the full complement makes this almost unavoidable from time to time.  Aside from this though, there is very little interaction and the actions for the starting locations are quite mild.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

The interesting part is how the game develops, since a new card is added to the game every time a location card is bought.  Each location holds just four cards, so for every cards that are bought, a new location is introduced, and once all the cards for one location have been bought, that location and therefore that action is no longer available.  The really clever part of the game is the “Legacy” element:  the end game condition, becomes the start condition for the next game.  For this reason, we decided to play the game three times so we could see and appreciate how it evolves.  The rules were easy enough to explain and Turquoise, Magenta and Burgundy were keen to give it a go, so they joined Blue and Pink leaving Black, Purple and Pine to find something else to play.  It wasn’t long before the Fabled Fruit players were happily collecting fruit cards and occasionally turning them into juice by buying location cards.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

It is a game of very fine margins, though and it wasn’t long before almost everyone had two Location cards tucked away and were fighting for one more to win.  In truth it wasn’t a long fight as Pink made his experience with the game tell and took the first round.  Then instead of resetting the game, we checked we still had the right number of cards out, and started again with the new set up.  So this time, we started with the market which had been introduced during the first round.  This is a face up display of five cards that players can interact with.  The Locations that were available allowed players to trade cards with the market, but also trade one strawberry, for any three non-strawberry fruit cards in the market.  This hugely increased the value of strawberries and, with the high value of pineapples (which could be traded for five from the deck) and bananas (which could be used to take cards off another player), it meant that players were holding more and more cards.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

This all changed in the third round, however, when Location Ten appeared which allowed the active player to take two fruits from the player with the most cards.  Nobody liked falling victim to that one very much, but everyone took advantage where they could.  With just Pink taking the second round as well as the first, it was all about trying to stop him taking a clean sweep.  In the end it was really tight.  Everyone gets the same number of turns, so when it was clear that Pink was once again in a position to trigger the end by purchasing his third card, it was a question of whether anyone could stop him.  Although Turquoise who started the round had been steadily improving, there was nothing she could do, nor Burgundy who went next.  As Pink then played his master-move and picked up third Location card, the question changed to whether Blue and Magenta would be able to join him.  Both had enough cards, but but Magenta, was unfortunately standing on the only card she could buy, so in the end, the final round was shared by Blue and Pink.

Fabled Fruit
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, Black, Purple and Pine had started off with Azul.  This, like NMBR 9, has been an immensely popular game since it first appeared on the group’s radar at Essen last year.  The game is almost entirely abstract, with a very loose “artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora” theme, but somehow, that doesn’t seem to matter as the game play is good and the production values very high.  In summary, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory displays (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles they took in one of the five rows on their player board.  The catch is that although they can add more tiles to a row later in the round, once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row. The round ends when all the tiles have been picked up, and one tile from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Tiles placed singly score just one point, but if they become part of a row or column, they pick up points for each tile in the row or column, so clever players can make tiles score over and over again.  The game ends when one player gets a complete row, so it takes at least five rounds, and then bonus points are awarded for completed columns or rows and full sets of five of a colour.  Purple wasn’t concentrating, so failed to get any bonus points, while Black and Pine picked up a few negative points.  Pin had a disastrous final round when he was forced to pick up six red tiles but could only place two of them meaning the rest all scored negative points, a total of minus thirteen for that round.  It didn’t do him too much damage though as he finished with thirty-eight, ten points clear of the others who were in a battle for second that Black won by a single point.

Azul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Next the trio moved on to Sagrada.  This is another popular “game of the moment”, with very similar feel to Azul, but this time using dice and players are building a stained glass window by placing dice on a grid of dice on their player board.  Each board has some restrictions on where certain coloured or numbered dice can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to manipulate some of the dice, either during the “drafting” phase, or sometimes those already in their “window”.  Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window. There are also three public objectives which everyone can use to score points; this time these gave points for complete sets of all five different colours, complete sets of all six numbers, and for columns that contained different numbers.  The game starts with each player choosing a window from two double-sided cards dealt at random.  The hard ones come with a lot of favour tokens and these can be critical as they can be used to move and re-roll dice or other special actions depending on what special tools are available.  This time they were particularly important, as everyone kept rolling sixes which wasn’t what they really needed.  Purple in particular made full use of all her favour tokens which helped keep her in the game.  When it came to scoring, it was quite close, with players taking similar scores on the separate public objectives. The small differences added up, however, and Pine finished in front with a nice round fifty, a handful of points ahead of Black in second place.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Fabled Fruit still hadn’t finished, but was well into its third round, so Purple, Black and Pine, looked round for something familiar and quick to play, and their collective eye fell on Kingdomino.  The rules didn’t need much recap: take a domino and add to the kingdom and then place a meeple on one of the dominoes on display for the next round.  When placing the dominoes, one of the two ends must connect to terrain of the same type already in the kingdom, or connect directly to the start tile.  Points are awarded at the end of the game by multiplying the number of tiles in an area of terrain by the number of crowns in the area.  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space (or be discarded) and bonus points are awarded for successfully placing all tile and finishing with the start tile in the centre.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It is a very clever little game, and tile placement is clearly critical, but one of the most important aspects is the trade off between turn order and tile value.  Each domino has a numerical value and they are set out and taken, from low to high, so players going for the more valuable tiles are trading this value against their position in the turn order.  This was key for Pine who failed to get the crowns he needed and when he did couldn’t add them to the terrain he wanted.  This was exacerbated by the fact that with only three players, some tiles never appear which can upset the balance of the game.  All in all, Pine had a complete “mare” of a game, crowned by the fact that he failed to place all his tiles and didn’t get his castle in the centre of the kingdom either.  It was a game he wanted to forget, but was close between Black and Purple.  Black had the edge though and finished with a grand total of seventy.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Nobody wanted a late night, but everyone fancied finishing with something light, and with so many people Las Vegas is always a good option.  This light dice game is really easy to play and doesn’t require much in the way of concentration, so is great to wind down with.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  the catch is that to place a “bet”, the player must use all the dice of one number that number.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of barracking.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

We also always add the Slot Machine from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar, which is like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  We also add some elements from the Boulevard expansion, including extra high value money cards, the “biggun” (which replaces one die per person with a larger, double weight die worth two of the little ones) and extra dice so more people can play.  Finally, we always house rule the game so we only play three rounds instead of four—although we love it, with four rounds it can outstay it’s welcome for those who feel they can’t catch up.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

It’s never easy to tell how people are doing as the money is stored face down and the denominations vary from $10,000 to $100,000, so someone with a large pile may be very rich or just have a lot of “notes”.  And Purple certainly had a lot of notes as she popped out to the conveniences and came back to find a massive money pile.  Everyone was so impressed that several others optimistically tried the same trick, but unfortunately they didn’t quite have the knack.  It was an exciting game though; with so many people playing there were a lot of draws and lots of bids ended up cancelling out others, often with three people involved and a fourth very lucky “loser” picking up the spoils.  In the final counting, Pink proved that while he was good at collecting fruit, he was rubbish at collecting money.  At the other end of the scale meanwhile, Black and Purple were again fighting it out for first place, but a tie on $340,000 each was eventually resolved in Purple’s favour.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome:  Aesop doesn’t have a monopoly on Fables.

6th March 2018

Food had been ordered by those who intended to eat, but there seemed to be a bit of wait so we decided to play our “Feature Game”, Plague & Pestilence.  This game had been chosen as it was Purple’s birthday and she had enjoyed playing it in the past.  A fairly simple card game, everyone felt it wouldn’t be too difficult to play around when food arrived, added to which, there weren’t many other options available that would play six in a short time.  The game is played in two phases, the first is the “Prosperity Phase” and the second is the “Plague Phase”, but both are played the same way.  During their turn, the active player rolls a pair of purple six-sided dice which indicate how much their population increases by, and takes population cards accordingly.  The active player then draws Prosperity cards to refill their hand and plays one, which allow players to attack others and build their own protections for later in the game.

– Image by boardGOATS

A special Death Ship card is shuffled into the Prosperity deck and when it appears, it triggers the start of the second phase, the “Plague Phase”.  This is played exactly the same as the first phase, but now the dice rolls indicate how much the active player’s population decreases by.  As the game progresses, the plague ravages the populations and players are eliminated; the last player standing is the winner.  The game started fairly benignly as most players either built improvements or had bumper harvests. There was the odd pestilence played and a Mongol raid, however, Green upped the ante when he played the mass migration card and gained five citizens off every other player.  This released the inevitable retribution when he then found himself beset with wars, famines and pestilence.  With two Pied Pipers up his sleeve (metaphorically of course) he was then able to pick on Ivory, and did so twice since Ivory had twice hit Green hard with a major war, and had also caught Pine with Viking raids. Meanwhile, Burgundy tried to build defences, and but they fell to earthquakes and other attacks before he could actually make use of their benefits.

– Image by boardGOATS

The game had not seemed to be going on long when Green drew the Death Ship and the game  entered the Plague Phase. A quick run round the table while everyone tried to bolster their dwindling populations and then food started to arrive.  After a brief interlude, play resumed with Black and his seemingly never-ending stream of Trade Centres.  Before long, a fatal blow was dealt to Burgundy when Purple started a war between him and Green. With three ties in a row, both suffered heavy losses. Although Burgundy did eventually win the war, he suffered some poor dice rolls and soon found himself to be the first without citizens. By now, Green was struggling and Black’s own mass migration had put both him and Pine on the edge as well. The inevitable backlash against Black gave Green and Pine a reprieve, but it was short lived and both toppled very quickly.

– Image by boardGOATS

It was looking like a fight between Ivory and Black as Purple’s pile of people was also looking decidedly dodgy, but then Black tried to start a war between the other two.  Ivory brought out his “Negotiated Peace” card though and all was well. It was a race of attrition that Purple couldn’t win and she was the next to drop out with an empty city.  In the end there was still little Ivory could do and he finally bowed out leaving Black the winner. It was then that Black revealed his hand to have several military advantages that he never used as he was the only one who had not been at war; everyone else had been wondering where those tactical advantages had disappeared to as they really needed them!  With the death and destruction over, we quickly decided to split into two threes.  As it was Purple’s birthday and she wanted to play Cat Lady, Pine and Black joined her.

– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

Cat Lady is a card drafting game, similar in feel to Sushi Go!, though the drafting mechanism is very different.  At the start of the game nine cards from the cat deck are laid out in a three by three array.  On their turn, the active player takes all thee cards in one row or one column and then replaces the cards from the draw deck marking the row they took with a kitty meeple so the next player knows they can’t take that row.  Any cat cards go in front of the owner (or should that be staff?) and these must be fed by the end of the game or they score minus two.  Any food cards give cubes which can then be placed on the face-up cat cards to show they are being fed.  Similar to Sushi Go!, there are also cards that score for the player with the most cards (cat “costumes”) and give players with the fewest negative points and sets that players can collect (toys).  Players can also collect catnip cards which score minus two if the player only has one at the end of the game, or one or two points per cat if they have more.  There are also lost cat cards, and discarding a pair allows players take a two victory point token or one of the three stray cat cards which are particularly useful because they have special powers.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor HedgeWizzard

The tricky part is making sure that the food a player gets matches the cards, because cats are fussy creatures and some like tuna, while others will only eat chicken…  At the end of the game, players score points for each happy well-fed cat and for their toy collection with extras if they have the most cat costumes.  Unfed cats, having the fewest costumes, and the largest surplus of food will give players negative points.  The game began with Purple going for costumes and toys while Black and Pine tried to get catnip to add extra points for their fed cats.  Perhaps Purple concentrated too much on the accoutrements for her pets because she ended up with so many cats that should couldn’t feed them all.  In her defence, it wasn’t that she had no food, it was that her cats were fussy eaters and turned their noses up at the fresh chicken, preferring to starve.  Unfortunately, this meant she lost points for having unfed cats, but also for having the largest surplus of food.  In contrast, the others had well fed cats and were level in almost every department, finishing with only three points between them, and Pine just a whisker in front of Black.

– Edited from video on youtube.com

Meanwhile, on the next table, Burgundy, Green and Ivory opted for NMBR 9. Only Burgundy had played it before, but the rules are simple enough so didn’t take long to explain.  The idea is that players will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice. One player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau. Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile. Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile. At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).  This time, Ivory and Green matched each other for several turns before making a slight different placement which then ballooned into big differences.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Ivory and Green were quite pleased early on when they were able to place the eight on the, then highest level when Burgundy had to be content with adding it to his “ground floor”. In the end, Burgundy proved cannier than the others, however, and even managed to get a fourth level by the end of the game, while both Ivory and Green could only manage three tiers. In the final scores, it was Burgundy’s experience that showed through and his score dwarfed that of Ivory and Green, who finished with only a point between them.  Chatting about the game afterwards, everyone was surprised how quick it had been and how easy it was to learn (helped by the zero setup time).  So much so in fact, that even though the game was not to everyone’s taste, everyone felt it made a very handy little filler game and with a nice little bit of challenge. Having played it once though, both Ivory and Green felt they had a better understanding of the challenges and were more familiar with the tessellation possibilities and looked forward to doing better next time.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

On the other table, Cat Lady was still underway, so the Green, Ivory and Burgundy opted for another of the hits from Essen 2017, Azul.  Despite the number of times we have now played this in the group, Ivory had somehow missed out.  The idea of the game is that players are tile laying artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora with “azulejos”.  On their turn, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory displays (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles in one of the five rows on their player board.  The catch is that each player only has five rows, each with a set number of spaces (up to five). Players can add tiles to a row later in the round, but once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row. Once all the tiles have been picked up, players evaluate their board, and, starting with the shortest row, one of the tiles from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Players score just one point for a tile that is not placed adjacent to any other tile, whereas tiles added to rows or columns score the same number of points as there are tiles in the completed row (or column). The game continues with players choosing tiles from the factory displays and then adding them to rows, the catch is that as the mosaic fills up, it is harder to fill the rows as each row can only take each colour once. At the end of the game, players score bonus points for completed columns, completed rows and complete sets of five of the same colour.  The game is actually much more complex to explain than to actually play and Ivory appeared to pick it up very quickly, successfully completing a column and two full coloured sets.  Green, on the other hand, had managed only one column and one colour set as he had got stuck with a single blue on the bottom row for at least two turns as there weren’t enough of that colour drawn from the bag which stopped him placing the colours he really wanted to.  It was Burgundy who romped home in the lead though, with two full columns and two complete colour sets and ninety-eight points, just three ahead of Ivory.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

While Azul was going on, Cat Lady had finished and the group also fancied playing Azul.  Unfortunately, we only had one copy between us so they settled on Sheep & Thief instead.  This is another light abstract that has proven quite popular in the group.  Each player has a board divided into a four by four grid, and starts with their home card and two sheep in the top left hand corner.  Each round is played in two halves: first players draft cards then they play them, taking it turns to place one card per turn.  It is a strange little “point salad” of a game with players trying to connect their home card to the other three corners while also trying to keep their sheep safe and trying to catch other players sheep with their fox as well as attempting to navigate their black sheep to the town in the bottom right corner of their board.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

With points for sheep captured, sheep retained, long rivers, connecting the home card to the other corners of the board as well as for moving their black sheep as far from home as possible, it is hard to see who has the most points and get an idea of who is in the lead and it is astonishingly hard to do well at everything.  During this game, there almost seemed to be a lack of sheep and not much movement around the fields either.  The black sheep only moved a space or two and the foxes mostly sat and watched.  Everyone managed to connect their home card to at least one town, but it was Black who managed to collected a huge number of points when he managed to mastermind a huge river system giving him a completely unassailable lead.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Azul was over, but as Sheep & Thief wouldn’t be long, Green, Ivory and Burgundy settled on a quick game of Love Letter with Green’s home printed Hobbit cards.  It is a while since we last played Love Letter, but nobody had forgotten how as it is simple enough:  draw a second card and chose one to play then action it trying to knock everyone else out—last player standing is the winner.  This time, Burgundy was caught out first as he had been forced to discard the Elvenking, leaving Green with a fifty/fifty guess at Beorn or the Great Eagle (the mutterings on placing the Elvenking suggested he wasn’t Smaug).  Although he guessed right, Ivory played a Troll to compare hands and Green could not match Ivory’s eagle. In the second round, history repeated itself for Burgundy as the first card he played was an Elvenking and the Great Eagle guess proved correct.  It was Green’s Troll card that forced the compare this time and took out Ivory.

– Image by boardGOATS

In the third round, Green started off by keeping himself out of harms way with Elrond, but he drew Smaug as his next card and knew that the writing would be on the wall—it’s very hard to keep that quiet for long. The inevitable happened when Ivory forced Green to reveal his card, but it didn’t do Ivory much good as Burgundy was then able to beat him on another comparison.  With one golden ring apiece and Sheep & Thief being scored on the next table, it was all or nothing on the final round.  Burgundy was knocked out first, but Green and Ivory took it to the final cards, a compare hands. Much to the dismay of Green who had accused Ivory of being Smaug earlier in the round, Ivory had subsequently drawn the dragon card, and with it took the game.  It wasn’t all that late, but nobody really wanted to start anything else.  With Green and Ivory making for home, Black, Burgundy and Pine waited on the birthday girl’s decision, but she also wanted to head off—she’d had a busy day.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Don’t be a fussy pussy or it could be fatal!

6th February 2018

With seven of us and the “Feature Game”, Ave Caesar, only playing six, we started the evening with a small problem.  The general consensus was that the game is more fun with more people, so splitting into two small groups didn’t feel right.  Blue offered to sit out as she was still eating, as did Burgundy and almost everyone else as well, but in the end, Purple and Black teamed up so we could all play together.  An older family game dating from 1989, Ave Caesar is also a fairly simple game.  The idea is that each player has a deck of movement cards, a chariot, and a coin, and the aim of the game is to be the first player to cross the line after completing three laps of the track.  On the way round each player must pay tribute to Caesar on the way by pulling up in front of the Emperor in his dedicated pit lane, chucking their Denarius into the game box and crying “Hail Caesar!”.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There are some nasty, unforgiving little features about this game.  For example, the track is generally a maximum of two lanes wide.  Worse, players can only use each of their cards once and don’t have lot of spare moves, so the outside lane should be used sparingly otherwise they may run out of moves before they complete their final lap.  Even worse than that, each player starts with a hand of three cards and plays one, then refreshes their hand.  The snag is that players cannot jump or move through occupied spaces and must use every space on the card they play, in other words, they cannot play a five for example if there are only three spaces they can move.  These “nasty features” can make the game very frustrating, but are also the clever part as they provide the challenge.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There have been several editions of the game, but the original Ravensburger is widely believed to be the best because it has slightly longer tracks which makes for a tighter game as players have fewer moves to spare.  It is well understood that the newer version that we were playing with could be improved by removing a five card from each player’s deck.  So we started sorting and counting cards, and finding a five to remove from each deck.  With this done, all those eating had also finished and Burgundy started with a modest two.  Blue was second and, with two sixes in hand felt that it was a good idea to get rid of one of them nice and early.  The problem with sixes is that you can’t play them when you are in the lead, but they can be quite difficult to play from the back as there has to be enough space in front to play them.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy’s two proved to be a mistake as everyone else promptly overtook him and left him stuck at the back for most of the rest of the lap.  In fact, he was so stuck, that he ended up missing three turns on the first lap alone.  In contrast, Blue had broken away from the pack and was looking at lapping Burgundy, but this had its own problems as she needed to get rid of her sixes, which she couldn’t do while in the lead.  Blue went to hail Caesar on her first lap to give people a chance to catch up.  After a bit of moaning that he hated Bank-holiday traffic, Pine finally managed to break away from the log-jam and take the lead giving Blue a chance to ditch a six, and everyone else a chance to make some progress too.  Everyone else that is, except Burgundy who was doing an excellent job of bringing up the rear.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

During the second lap, Pine just managed to nip in and pay his dues to Caesar, while Green followed and then reduced his chariot speed to a crawl and “Hailed” three times successfully causing a queue behind.  It was the third lap where things started to get interesting though with everyone jockeying for position to try to make sure that they didn’t have to waste moves.  Blue had a bigger problem though, she was miles in front, but still had to draw her final six from the deck and then play it.  She tried hanging back, reluctant to give away the size of her problem, but that card stayed in the pack.  Finally, as she drew her last card, she found her final six, but it was too late and Team Black and Purple cantered past and pipped her to the finish.  Green trotted in taking third place and leading the rest of the pack home.  Ironically, had she not suggested removing the fives at the start of the game, Blue would have won easily, but that would have been boring.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

It hadn’t been Ivory’s sort of game, so to placate him we offered him Yokohama, a game he’s been angling to play since before Christmas, but there wasn’t quite enough time for that, so he went for Sagrada instead and was joined by Pine and Blue.  This is a very pretty little game with many features in common with one of our current favourites, Azul.  It has simple rules, but lots of complexity and is essentially an abstract with a very thin theme, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to matter.  In Sagrada, players build a stained glass window by building up a grid of dice on their player board. Each board has some restrictions on which colour or shade (value) of die can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to rearrange some of the dice, either during “drafting”, or sometimes those already in their window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.  Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window. There are also three public objectives which everyone can use to score points; in this case we were scoring for coloured dice diagonally adjacent; complete sets of one to six and pairs of five and six. The game starts with each player choosing a window from two double-sided cards dealt at random.  The hard ones come with a lot of favour tokens; this time almost all the options available seemed to be the difficult ones, which made Blue especially wary given the dogs’ breakfast she made of the game at New Year playing a challenging window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Everyone seemed to go for different strategies this time.  Blue went for the public “diagonals” goal, making a pretty Battenburg pattern, but only managed to get one five, so struggled with the other objectives.  In contrast, Ivory did well getting pairs of five and six, but only got one three, so couldn’t score so well for the sets.  Pine completely ignored the diagonals and really concentrated on his private goal and getting complete sets of one to six.  It was a really tight game and Blue and Ivory were to rue those dice they’d failed to get as Pine finished with forty-three points, just two ahead of Ivory and three clear of Blue.  Despite finishing second, Ivory was much happier with this game than Ave Caesar and was up for giving something else a go.  Pine was keen to play Animals on Board again, and it is a nice enough little game and not long so Ivory was happy to give it a go too.  The idea is that players are collecting animals to go in their cardboard ark.  Each set of animals in the game is numbered from one to five and a selection are drawn at random and placed face up in the centre of the table.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

On their turn the active player either divides one of the groups in the middle into two parts (and takes a box of fruit for their pains) or takes the animals from one of the groups, paying for them with boxes of fruit at a rate of one per animal.  At the end of the game (triggered when one player picks up their tenth animal) Noah claims any pairs of animals and the remaining animals are scored: singletons score their face value and sets of three or more score five per animal.  It was quite tight, Ivory collected four rhinos and Pine managed three hippos.  Blue brought the game to a sudden and unexpected end when she unexpectedly found herself with a large set she could take profitably, leaving her with two sets of three, foxes and zebras, and with it, the she took the game.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Black, Pink, Burgundy and Green were playing the classic, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”).  Despite being over twenty years old now, it still holds up as a good family game in a way that some other games of the same vintage do not.  The game is played on an iconic variable tile game board on which players build settlements and cities on the nodes and roads along the edges.  One of the things that makes the game so popular is the lack of down time: a turn consists of rolling dice, trading and then buying and/or building.  Each hexagon on the board is numbered and rolling the dice gives resources to every player with a settlement on the hexagon on the number rolled.  Since each node is on the corner of three hexagons, players frequently get resources during other players’ turns.  Everyone is potentially involved in the trading of course, so the only part of anyone’s turn that is not shared is the buying and building phase, but this is usually quite short.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the random layout of tiles gave an even spread, but the number tokens placed on them had an unusual symmetry:  both eights were on the mountains (giving stone), both threes were on the fields (giving wheat) and both nines were on the clay beds (giving brick).  Green started and inevitably chose the choice spot with that would give him wool, wood and clay, much to Burgundy’s chagrin. Black was last to place and decided to connect his two roads and settlements, so by the time it Green got his second turn, he had very little option and ended up with a port location which would yield only two cards to everyone rather than three.  The dice seemed to be rolling according to the predicted distribution with the red numbers (six & eight) coming up often.  This gave Burgundy a lot of stone and wood, but due to his lack of brick he quickly converted a settlement to a city which only increased his supply of stone.

– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for him, all these extra resources counted against him as the other number to come up regularly was seven, so meaning the robber was moved and everyone had to reduce the number of resource cards they were holding to seven.  Burgundy often was higher due to his regular double productions, but to make it worse he frequently seemed to because of his own demise since he was the one who kept rolling the sevens—three times in succession at one point! With that kind of luck he really began to wonder if he should just pack it in right then and go play something else.  While Burgundy was struggling with his own security though, Purple and Green were steadily building their kingdoms. Purple gained another settlement and converted one of her others into a city. Green had spread out from his choice spot to build another settlement on the port side of the value eight mountains and in the other direction to another port with more clay, giving him the longest road, and with it two bonus points, for the moment at least.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Black seemed to be languishing, unable to get traction and the cards he needed for expansion. Catan requires investment for growth, but he had barely two coins to rub together to invest with at all.  Once Green had built on the mountain-side the eight rolls seemed to dry up and he struggled to get enough stone or wheat to convert his settlements to cities.  Purple’s hidden development card made everyone think she had an extra hidden point, and possibly the lead. Certainly the early rolls went in her favour and it was beginning to look like this could be her game. Green’s long road brought him into the running, and the power of Burgundy’s cities meant he wasn’t far behind. The production Burgundy’s cities provided meant he was able to go after longest road and take it from Green, thus starting a little road building war between the two.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

With nowhere else on the board worth building on, Burgundy decided on an alternative strategy and started trading for development cards. He managed to place two knights and was about to take the Largest Army, until everyone else reminded him he three army cards for that. It only delayed the inevitable though, as one round later he played a third knight card, claimed the Largest Army and two points with it. He easily built two more roads and with it retook the Longest Road card for a second time simultaneously revealing he had a one point development card in his hand.  This meant he went from five points on the board to a total of ten points in one turn and with it finished the game.  Purple and Black revealed they also had a one point development card to give them both six points and joint second place.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Both tables finished at about the same time and, as Ivory headed home, Burgundy commented that he’d like to give NMBR 9 a go.  Everyone else chimed in that they’d be happy to join him , but Pine and Purple got there first and with no set up time got started quickly.  The game is very simple: one player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau.  All the tiles are roughly number-shaped and each player will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice.  Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile. Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile. At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Unlike a lot of games, it is very difficult to tell who is winning, as the largest scores come late in the game when adding tiles to the higher layers.  However, the lower layers must be able to  accommodate the later tiles as and when they come out, otherwise a player can’t take advantage of the opportunities they may offer.  This time Burgundy “got lucky” and was able to squeeze a seven, an eight and a nine onto his third level giving him a massive forty-eight points for them alone and a bit of a land-slide victory.  We’ve played this game a few times now as a group and all the previous games have been quite close.  Other Bingo-type game like Take it Easy!, Das Labyrinth des Pharao or Karuba, have been relatively unpopular with the group as they feel like multiplayer solitaire, but somehow, in our group, everyone gets involved helping everyone else out, which makes this game much more enjoyable.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The other three chatted for a few minutes before deciding to play a quick game of Kingdomino as it is a game we know well and can play quickly and without committing too much thought.  It  consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  Players are building their kingdoms by placing dominoes where one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or to the starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded. At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up together with any bonuses to give their score.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was really tight with each player capitalising and building on different terrain types:  Black took forests, Green took pasture and Blue took sea.  There were three points between first and third, but it was Black who finished at the front, just one point ahead of Blue.  With three players, some tiles are removed from the game at random.  Like last time, almost all the tiles removed were  the high-scoring mountain and marshland tiles, but at least this time nobody’s game plan depended on them.  It did encourage some discussion, though with Black commenting that he didn’t like the game with three because of this uncontrolled randomness, and Blue commenting that perhaps the tiles that are taken out should be turned face up and displayed so that players can at least see what won’t be available.  Maybe a variant for another time.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Some games stand the test of time, others not so much.

28th December 2017 – boardGOATS do the Quiz

As we meet at The Jockey every week, last year at Christmas we decided to enter a team for their Quiz night between Christmas and New Year.  We didn’t have a large team, but Blue, Pink, Pine, Violet and Violet’s mum were in attendance and had managed to win for the GOATS at the first attempt.  Flushed with that success, we decided to give it a go this year too. This time there were seven of us with Pine bringing along his mate, Azure.  As before, we booked a table for 8pm and, as usual, pizza was largely the order of the day with a burger, tagliatelle and scampi for those who decided not to follow the tradition.  While we were waiting for food to arrive, Green asked whether Red was going to be about over Christmas as he had some Gruyère for her. Unfortunately Azure misheard and asked who Trevor was.  Much hilarity ensued as Pine got himself in a terrible mess explaining who Red was and why he thought she wouldn’t be interested in someone called Trevor, but would love a block of cave-aged cheese!  To spare his further blushes, someone quickly suggested we played a game, which seemed like a good idea.  With so many people and so little time, the choice was limited, so we went with Tsuro.

Tsuro
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Tsuro is a very simple game to teach and play, and, although it has nasties such as player elimination, it is so quick to play that these things don’t really matter.  The idea is that each player has a “Stone” which starts on a marker at the edge of the board and a hand of three tiles.  On their turn, the active player then places a tile on the next square in such a way as to create a path in front of the stone.  They then move their stone (and any others affected) along the path to the new end.  The game continues with players taking turns to place tiles and move stones trying to keep their stone on the board and avoid colliding with any other stone; the last stone left is the winner.  This time, it was a cagey start as everyone was very careful.  It wasn’t until the draw deck had been depleted, that the first players were eliminated, with Pine  forced to play a tile that caused him to collide with Blue removing both from the game.  Purple and Azure were next leaving three players until Black was forced to take himself off the board and Green with him, leaving Pink the sole survivor.

Tsuro
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

While we were eating Green asked about the “Monster Games” session the night before.  The evening had started with Kingdomino, and included NMBR 9, Azul and 6 Nimmt!.  The highlight had been El Grande, however, a game that we enjoyed on a previous “Monster Games” session.  This time, however, we decided to add the Grand Inquisitor & the Colonies expansion.  This adds an extra couple of elements to the game (but still no Portugal, much to Pink’s disgust).  Both Blue and Black quite liked the Grand Inquisitor component and would happily play with it again, but neither were very keen on the Colonies aspect, despite the fact that Blue had been able to use it to great effect towards the end of the game.  Pine had the last word on the subject though when he commented that he’d found it amusing that everyone had known before the start that Black and Blue were competing for first place, while everyone else was trying to avoid coming last.  It was perhaps just as well that the landlord chose that moment to hand out the paperwork for the picture round…

El Grande
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

We started off badly, but quickly improved with a perfect score in the second round.  We maintained steady progress, but the team that beat the “Eggheads” would take some catching.  As the Quiz progressed it was clear that we would need a really good score in the “Who Am I?”, anagram and picture rounds to be in with a chance.  We got all three anagrams, but the “Who Am I?” was a bit of a disaster as we worked out who it was (“the big bloke from The Chase“), but couldn’t remember his name.  It turned out that that was actually enough information, but we only found that at the very end, so only got one point (his name is Mark Labbett).  Although we put in a reasonable picture round, it wasn’t good enough to make up the difference and we finished in a respectable second place.

Quiz December 2017
– Image by boardGOATS

With the Quiz over, we reverted to what we do best and went back to playing board games, or in this case, a dice game, as we finished the evening with Las Vegas.  The game itself is a very simple betting game.  Players begin their turn by rolling their dice and then assign some of them to one of six casinos (one for each dice face) each of which has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.  Players must place all the dice displaying one number to bet on the casino of that number, and when done, play passes to the next player.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card, with the person in second place taking the next and so on. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed.  This leads to a lot of barracking when dice are played as opponents try to encourage the active player to choose their favoured option.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

As usual, we included the Big Dice from the Boulevard expansion and the Slot Machine mini-expansion from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar.  The large dice are double weight and count as two in the final  reckoning.  The Slot Machine acts like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but dice of each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  Since we play the game unusually slowly, we generally stop after just three rounds rather than the four recommended in the rules, and today was no exception.  Reducing the number of rounds meant that everyone had to make each round count to stay in the running, especially in such a close game.  Three players took over $300,000, with Green just $10,000 ahead of Black.  It was Blue who finished first, however, thanks largely to her judicious use of the slot machine which ensured a healthy return in the first two rounds.  And with that, it was home time for everyone, including Trevor the Cheese.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Shy bairns get nowt.

28th November 2017

The “Feature Game” was to be Lords of Waterdeep, and with a nearly full turn-out, it was simply a question of who wanted to play it.  Some were a little put off by the Dungeons & Dragons theme, but Burgundy, Green, Ivory, and Purple were keen to give it a go, with Ivory and Purple new to the game.  Each player is a secret Lord of Waterdeep, who uses their agents to recruit adventurers to collect gold so that they can complete Quests to advance their cause.  Each player in turn places one of their “agents” on a building space on the board and immediately resolves the effects of that building. A player may not place his agent on a building space if it has already been taken; the round ends when all agents have been placed, and a game is exactly eight rounds long.  Most of the buildings on the board give money or adventurers. The adventurers are represented by coloured wooden cubes: orange for Fighters, black for Rogues, white for Clerics and purple for Wizards.

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The adventurers players collect are exchanged for completing Quest cards. These cards can range from only a few points (four to six), but an extra advantage or some adventurer returned (a bit like a cash-back scheme), to some that give a massive amount of points (over twenty).  This is not the only source of points as there is also a substantial reward given to each player for completing the requirements on their secret Lord of Waterdeep card.  Despite the Fighting Fantasy theme, Lords of Waterdeep is really just run of the mill worker placement game, with adventurers instead of resources.  Unlike many games of this genre, “resources” flow in quite readily, but unfortunately they also flow out just as easily too…

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

When Green completed a twenty point Quest early on, he looked a long way in the lead, but although it took a couple of rounds for his advantage to be quashed, quashed it duly was. It didn’t take long for everyone to work out which Quest card types everyone had for their secret goals, with Green and Ivory both wanting Commerce, and Green and Burgundy both chasing Piety. Only Purple remained more elusive to work out which was not surprising since she was actually scoring for every building she built and not scoring for Quests completed at all. No-one guessed, even though she managed to build six out of the maximum ten built. To be fair to Green and Ivory, Green had only played the game once before and that was four years ago, and Ivory had never played at all. Burgundy was at least aware that there was such a task, but after the game commented that he never does well at this game (unusually for him), though he enjoys the challenge.

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Throughout the game, Purple employed an interesting strategy in that she built up a number of Intrigue cards without using them. She turned that round in the last two or three rounds as her pile of Intrigues got whittled down, gaining her bonuses at everyone else’s expense ( and occasionally to their benefit as well), until she ended the game with none.  Ivory put a lot of effort into trying to get the big scoring quests and at one point was holding out for one on display to use with the building that would gain him an extra four points if he could complete at the same time as picking it up. In the end he bottled it and took it a turn earlier in case it was lost. It turned out he was right to do so, as shortly after he had taken it, all the quest cards were replaced. Ivory also managed to gain a number of bonus points as he too was a prolific builder.

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Green was trying to get as many Commerce cards as he could figuring the low scores would add up (Peity cards, his other bonus challenge, were in rather short supply in this game). About half way through, he built the extra worker building that when used allows the player to choose an action before anyone else. Green then used this to great effect taking this piece regularly and combining it with the first player marker to get the first two turns.  In a game where white Clerics were in such short supply (and many of the Quests that appeared later required lots of clerics), this really scuppered the plans of Ivory and Burgundy in particular.  Peity cards need more Clerics than most, Burgundy’s game was often frustrated by the lack of white cubes, and although he kept the first player token in the early part of the game and made good use of it, he just couldn’t quite get his engine going.

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The intrigue cards added an extra layer and interaction into the game. Many of them gave a benefit, but also gave a lesser advantage to another player of choice. And some were downright mean to a player of choice, and so alliances were made and broken throughout the game. Reasoning and pleading were a regular feature—an enjoyable interaction which is not so direct in other games.  In the end, it was a close game, but Ivory came out on top, just three points ahead of Green.  Everyone enjoyed it though and would be happy to play it again, but there was general agreement that with five players it would get crowded and might begin to drag.

Lords of Waterdeep
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Meanwhile, on the next table, they had a bit of a problem:  almost all the games they had were four player games and there were five of them!  That afternoon, Magenta had expressed an interest in playing The Climbers again and, as it plays five, it was an easy choice.  This is a great three dimensional strategy game that we first played about a year ago.  It looks like it is designed round a set of children’s building blocks, but it’s appearance belies its true nature however, and, although it looks like a kiddie’s dexterity game, it is really a strategy game with almost no dexterity component at all.  The game is played in turn order with each turn comprising three steps. Firstly, the active player can move a block, any block so long as there isn’t anything on it, and they can place it anywhere, in any orientation as long as there is sufficient space. Next the active player can move their Climber as far as they like within the rules.

– Image by boardGOATS

Climbers can climb up any step below their head height unaided as long as the face they are climbing onto is grey or their own colour. They can also use their long and/or short ladders to climb larger distances, but they are fragile and therefore single use. Before the end of their turn, the active player may place their blocking stone, which prevents a brick being moved or used until that player’s next turn.  These are also single use though, so timing is everything, in fact that is true for almost everything about this game which was amply demonstrated by Blue. Nominated to go first by random draw, she made the most of it using her long ladder and getting as high up as she could as quickly as possible, much to everyone else’s disgust.  Black got himself somewhat stuck on a ledge, but Red, Pine and Magenta quickly caught up.  Then it became a real game of chess with everyone trying to outmaneuver everyone else.   Red accused Blue of using “Dubious Tactics”, but they proved to be winning tactics as she finished just higher than Red in second.

The Climbers
– Image by boardGOATS

With the Matterhorn conquered, and Lords of Waterdeep still going, it was back to the search for a five-player game, and Santo Domingo fitted the bill.  This is a light card game of tactics and bluffing with a pirate theme set in the world of one of our more popular games, Port Royal.  The idea is that in each round player one character card from their hand which are activated in character order and then are placed on a personal discard pile.  The characters are designed to maximise player interaction, with their result dependent on cards that other players have chosen, similar to games like Citadels and Witch’s Brew.  For example, the first card is the Captain who can take a victory point (from a track on a central game board) up to a maximum of twice. The second character is the Admiral who also takes one victory point, but this time up to a maximum of five times, but this is only possible if there are enough points available. This means players have to play “chicken” and try to time playing their second card when other players play something other than the the Captain or the Admiral.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

Players have to be careful though because the third card is the Governor which gives players goods (rather than points) for every player who played either a Captain or an Admiral card. This means players are trying to maximise their return by reading everybody’s minds and saving their Governor for the round when everyone else is playing the Captain and the Admiral.  Cards four, five and six are the Frigate, Galleon and Customs are roughly analogous to the first three characters, except the Frigate and Galleon yield goods (instead of points) and the Customs card gives points (instead of goods).  Goods are very useful as they can be turned into victory points using the Trader (the seventh character card). Timing is key here too though as the potential return increases for every round that nobody uses the Trader; the return also depends on the number of people to play the card though, so even if everyone waits and then plays the Trader at the same time, players may get less than if they had played a round earlier.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

The final card is the Beggar which allows players to pick up their discard pile so that they can re-use them in the following rounds. At the end of each round, players check to see if anyone has passed thirty points and if so, that triggers the end of the game where any residual goods are converted to points at the minimum rate and the player left with the most points is the winner.  It was about half way through the game that Blue realised that there was something missing.  When the Trader is played, the return is dependent on the yellow track and how many players play the same card.  The problem was that once someone plays the Trader, that triggers a reset of the yellow, trader’s track.  Unfortunately, we forgot the reset bit which meant that players who were prioritising goods were finding it easy to get a good return whenever they wanted.  As a result, the game was very close and finished very quickly.

Santo Domingo
– Image by boardGOATS

Magenta took the first place with thirty-one points, just two ahead of Black in second.  As we had time, we decided to give the game another go, playing correctly this time.  Second time round was still close, though there was a better spread and the Beggar (who also gives goods for every Trader card played in the same round) suddenly became a bit more interesting.  After doing well in the fist game, Black got his timing wrong and failed to trade his goods.  Magenta was extremely efficient the second time round as well, but this time was beaten into second place by Blue.  With the game finished, Red and Magenta headed home and Blue, Black and Pine began a game of Azul.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

This is a new release that Pink and Blue picked up at Essen this year and so far has been popular with the group as well as receiving a lot of buzz further afield.  The idea of the game is that players are tile laying artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora with “azulejos”.  On their turn, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory display (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles in one of the five rows on their player board.  The catch is that each player only has five rows, each with a set number of spaces, one to five. Players can add tiles to a row later in the round, but once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row. Once all the tiles have been picked up, players evaluate their board, and, starting with the shortest row, one of the tiles from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Players score one point for a tile that is not placed adjacent to any other tile, whereas tiles added to rows or columns score the same number of points as there are tiles in the completed row (or column). The game continues with players choosing tiles from the factory displays and then adding them to rows, the catch is that as the mosaic fills up, it is harder to fill the rows as each row can only take each colour once. The game is actually much more complex to explain than to actually play, and as such is just the sort of game we really appreciate.  Blue and Black had both played before, but Pine was new to the game.  Last time he played, Black had commented that this was “just the sort of game that he really liked, but wasn’t any good at”, so it was left to Blue to lead the way.  Pine didn’t need much showing however, and soon had a very fine wall of his own.  So much so in fact, that when Blue was forced to pick up five black “azulejos” she didn’t have space for he was in prime position to take a well deserved win.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

While Azul was still underway, Lords of Waterdeep had come to an end, so Green, Ivory, Burgundy and Purple decided there was time for quick game of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.  This is a straight-forward, light tile laying game, where players are decorating the palace lake with floating lanterns and competing to become the most honored artisan when the festival begins. Each tile is divided into four quarters, each of which has a colour, red, orange, blue, green, purple, black and white. On their turn, players choose a tile from their hand of three and add it to the central palace lake. Every player then receives a lantern card corresponding to the color on the side of the tile facing them, with the active player receiving bonus cards for any edges where the colours of the new tile match those of the lake. At the start of their next turn, players can gain honour tiles by dedicating sets of lantern cards, three pairs, four of a kind or seven different colours. Each tile is worth honour points and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Purple, Burgundy and Ivory went for trying to collect for the full colour set, while Green was content to begin targeting the “two-pairs” or four of a kind. Purple was a late starter to exchange her cards, forcing Burgundy to go for a couple of two-pairs, and Green got stuck with three orange lantern cards with none left to collect. Part way through the game, they suddenly realised that the six point scoring taken was actually a nine point scoring token and everyone had to work out who should have earned what. There weren’t too many already taken, so the correction was worked out quite easily. Purple seemed to not only hoard the cards, but was also building a large collection of bonus discs, such that the others thought that she wasn’t going to be able to use them all.  As usual there was the normal mutterings of the tiles being the wrong way round. Later on with shortages of some colours, tiles were placed in such a way to prevent some players collecting anything at all.  As the game wore on Purple started to exchange her cards and use her discs. By the end of the game she had actually used them all, and it turned out that she’d used them to perfection, proving that hoarding can sometimes be a winning strategy.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Just as they started, Azul finished so Blue suggested Black might like to give NMBR 9 a try since he had been quite intrigued last time when Pine, Blue and Purple had played it. Black was Keen and Pine had enjoyed it, so Blue explained the rules.  The idea is that players will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice.  One player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau.  Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile.  Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile.  At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one.  So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game followed the usual course, but it wasn’t long before the the bingo calls started.  Pine began, but Ivory on the next table soon joined in: “Number eight,  garden gate”; “On it’s own, number one”.  Pine finished with, “This number’s smaller, Ivory’s the caller!”  And finished the evening just about was, with only the maths left to be sorted out.  Both Blue and Black had managed to sneak a nine and a one onto the third story.  Pine had more than Black on the first story, but Blue had more than either of them and finished with a grand total of fifty three, some five points more than either of the others.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome: Don’t be misled by an unpromising theme.

14th November 2017

While Blue and Burgundy finished their supper, everyone else played a quick game of The Game, played with cards from The Game: Extreme.  The game is a very simple cooperative game: played with a deck of ninety-eight cards the group have to play all of them to win.  Each player starts with a hand of cards and must play at least two of their cards on one of the four piles. The first rule is that cards added to two of the piles must be higher face value than those previously played, while cards on the other two must be lower.  The second rule is “the backwards rule”, which says that if the interval is exactly ten the first rule is reversed.  The third and final rule is that players  can say anything they like so long as they don’t share specific number information about the contents of their hand.  The Extreme version has blue cards instead of red ones, but also has additional symbols on the cards which add further restrictions and make playing cards more difficult.

– Image by boardgoats

By ignoring the extra symbols the original version of The Game can be played with cards from The Extreme version.  As is often the case, the game started badly with almost everyone starting with cards between thirty and seventy.  There are two problems with this, firstly it forces players to progress the decks faster then they wanted.  Secondly, the very high and very low cards are still waiting to be revealed which causes the same problem a second time later in the game.  And this is exactly what happened.  Pine for example started with nothing below forty and only one card above sixty, and ended the game with a lots of cards in the nineties.  With such an awful hand before everyone else was ready, he ended up just playing everything and was the first to check-out.  By this time Burgundy and Blue were finished with pizza and had discovered that watching the others struggle was strangely compelling.  It wasn’t long before Purple was unable to play though, which brought the game to a close with a combined to total of seven cards unplayed.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

With food finished and The Game over, the group split into two with the first group playing the “Feature Game”, Flamme Rouge.  This is a bicycle game that Blue and Pink played at Essen in 2016, but actually picked up at the fair this year.  The game is quite simple, bit even then we managed to get it slightly wrong.  The idea is that each player has two riders, a Sprinteur and a Rouleur, each of which has a deck of cards. Simultaneously, players draw four cards from one of their the rider’s deck and choosing one to play, before doing the same for their second rider.  Once everyone has chosen two cards, the riders move, starting with the rider at the front of the pack, discarding the used cards.  Once all the riders have moved, then the effect of slip-streaming and exhaustion are applied.  Exhaustion is simple enough – players simply add an exhaustion card to the deck for any rider without cyclists in the square in front of them at the end of the round.  The slip-streaming is slightly more complex, but the idea is that every pack of cyclists that has exactly one space between them and the pack in front, benefits from slip-streaming and is able to catch up that one space.

Flamme Rouge
– Image by BGG contributor mattridding

Slip-steaming is applied from the back, which means riders may be able to benefit multiple times.  The problem was, Blue had played incorrectly at Essen: they had played that a pack had to comprise at least two riders and would move forward regardless of how many spaces there were in front of them.  Ironically, the person to suffer most from this rules mishap was Blue as her Sprinteur was dropped from the pack early in the race and, although he got on to the back of the pack again, the exhaustion caused by all the early effort meant he struggled for the rest of the race and was soon dropped completely.  All the other riders managed to stay in the Peloton and, as the race drew to a close, there was some jockeying for position.  Black’s Sprinteur made a dash for the line, but got his timing very slightly wrong and didn’t quite make it.  Pine’s Sprinter on the other hand, timed his dash to perfection and pipped Black to first place.  In fact, Pine rode such a canny race, his Rouleur came in third.

Flamme Rouge
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor zombiegod

Meanwhile, on the next table, Burgundy, Purple and Green were giving Azul a go.  This is a brand new release that Pink and Blue picked up at Essen this year and played back at their hotel while they were in Germany.  It has such nice pieces and is such a clever, yet simple game, that Blue tipped it for the Spiel des Jahres award next year (or at least a nomination if something even better comes out).  The idea of the game is that players are tile laying artists decorating a wall in the Palace of Evora with “azulejos”.  On their turn, the active player can either take all the tiles of one colour from one of the factory display (putting the rest in the central market) or take all the tiles of one colour from the market in the centre of the table.  They then place the tiles in one of the five rows on their player board.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Each row can only contain one colour, but players may have more than one row with any given colour.  The catch is that each player only has five rows, each with a set number of spaces, one to five.  Players can add tiles to a row later in the round, but once a row is full, any left-overs go into the negative scoring row.  Once all the tiles have been picked up, players evaluate their board, and, starting with the shortest row, one of the tiles from each full row is added to the player’s mosaic and scored. Players score one point for a tile that is not placed adjacent to any other tile, whereas tiles added to rows or columns score the same number of points as there are tiles in the completed row (or column).  The game continues with players choosing tiles from the factory displays and then adding them to rows, the catch is that as the mosaic fills up, it is harder to fill the rows as each row can only take each colour once.

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

The game is much more complex to explain than to actually play, and as such is just the sort of game we really appreciate.  There are also end game bonuses which keep everyone guessing right up to the end.  So, although fairly simple to play, it is very clever and gives players a lot to think about.  Blue had played it with Burgundy, Black and Purple at the Didcot Games Club and everyone had enjoyed it, so Burgundy and Purple were keen to share it with Green.  The previous game had been very tight between first and second, with a tie for third, but this time, the game seemed quite tight throughout the game.  In the end, Burgundy finished the clear winner with seventy-eight points.  It remained tight for second place though, but Purple’s extra experience showed and she pipped Green by four points.  Both games finished at about the same time, so with Black, Ivory and Green keen to play 7 Wonders, and Purple and Blue not so keen, it was musical chairs while everyone else decided which group to join.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

7 Wonders is a card drafting game similar to games like Sushi Go! or Between Two Cities.  Each player starts with a hand of cards and, simultaneously, each player chooses a card to play, a card to keep and then a passes the rest to the next player. The cards are played with various different aims:  players might try to build up their city and erect an architectural wonder, or attempt to have a superior military presence to neighbouring players. The game consists of three rounds, the first and third passing cards to the left, with the middle round passing cards to the right.  Black and Green went down the military route taking points from both Ivory and Burgundy and picked up additional victory points from blue cards.  Ivory and Burgundy, on the other hand, went for science points, but Ivory managed to take the most squeezing out both Burgundy and Black.  It was a close game with just five points between first place and third place, but it was Green who just finished in front.

– Image by BGG contributor damnpixel

On the next table, Blue, Purple and Pine played a game of another Essen acquisition, Animals on Board.  This actually belonged to Pink, but Blue still had it in the bag from Didcot Games Club a few days before.  It is a very simple game of set collecting, with elements from Coloretto and 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!.  Totally over produced, the game comes with fantastic cardboard arcs and thick card animal tiles.  There are five of each animal, and each set includes animals numbered from one to five and a selection are drawn at random and placed face up in the centre of the table.  On their turn the active player either divides one of the groups into two parts (and takes a box of fruit for their pains) or takes the animals from one of the groups, paying for them with boxes of fruit at a rate of one per animal.  At the end of the game (triggered when one player picks up their tenth animal) Noah claims any pairs of animals.  The remaining animals either score their face value if they are singletons, or score five if there are three or more.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor chriswray84

Blue began collecting pandas and zebras, while Purple and Pine fought over the tigers, foxes and crocodiles.  It was Blue who triggered the end of the game and everyone counted up their totals in whst turned out to be a very close game.  Everyone had at least one set of three and Purple had managed to take four foxes.  Blue had managed to pick up a total of eleven animals and that extra critter made the difference giving, her the win.  Since it had been so close and 7 Wonders was still going, they decided there was just enough time to play something else and see if revenge could be had.  Since NMBR 9, another game that came back from Essen, needs no setting up, they decided to give it a go.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

NMBR 9 is a Bingo-type game like Take it Easy! or Karuba, where  one player calls a number and everyone plays their tile that corresponds to that number.  NMBR 9 takes the number theme one step further, since all the tiles are roughly number-shaped.  The idea is that players will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice.  One player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau.  Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile.  Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile.  At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one.  So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Blue started off well, which was unsurprising as she had played it before with Pink.  She quickly got herself into a bit of a tangle though, with the plaintive cry, “I’ve got a hole in the wrong place!”  Pine was steadily making up ground, but concurred, muttering, “There are too many sticky out bits on a four…”  With 7 Wonders finally coming to an end, Black and Burgundy found their curiosity piqued by the strange shaped tiles and tried to work out what was going on.  It wasn’t long before the last cards were turned over though and everyone had to take their shoes and socks off to work out the scores.  Pine’s smart second level placement had yielded success and he finished with score of sixty-one, a comfortable lead of five over blue in second place.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Some games, make surprisingly good spectator sports.