Tag Archives: Azul

Boardgames in the News: Asmodee Acquiring Again

The development of Asmodee from a small French games company primarily known for clever little kids game like Dobble and Jungle Speed, into an industrial conglomerate has been covered extensively here.  Over the last decade or so, they have acquired Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair and Lookout Spiele amongst others.  They have also leveraged control of the distribution network through the purchase of Esdevium (UK), Heidelberger Spieleverlag (Germany), Hodin (Belgium), Asterion Press (Italy), Millennium (Spain), FRED Distribution (USA) and agreements with Rebel (Poland), and Alliance Game Distributors (USA).  These acquisitions tend to come in flurries presumably as funds are made available and it seems they are in the middle of another one now.

Asmodee Logo
– Image from
escapistmagazine.com

In March last year, Asmodee signed a deal with CMON Ltd., to exclusively distribute the publisher’s board and tabletop games in North America.  Distribution agreements happen all the time because they help distribute costs between companies as well as distribute games to gamers all over the world.  What makes this agreement slightly more unusual is that CMON are a US company that have been successfully distributing their product across the USA.  Where Asmodee are concerned, a distribution agreement announcement is usually followed by more announcements, and this was no exception.  Over the Summer, Asmodee announced a similar distribution agreement with the Swiss publishing house, Helvetiq, and acquired the French-language boardgame site, Tric Trac.

CMON Logo
– Image from cmon.com

For eighteen years from 2000, Tric Trac was an independent enterprise with some 40,000 members directed by Monsieur Phal (aka Philippe Maurin).  In 2018, Flat Prod SARL (the parent company), sold Tric Trac to Plan B Games, a new company that grew out of the fallout of Asmodee’s acquisition of F2Z/Filosofia/Z-Man Games etc., in 2016, and won the Spiel de Jahres Award with Azul.  Tric Trac has been more commercial than the popular US-based, English-language website BoardGameGeek, which has been running for a similar length of time.  However, there have long been suspicions of that Asmodee have received special treatment from Tric Trac, suspicions fueled by the fact that the parent company Flat Prod SARL was formed by Philippe Maurin and the company Plume Finance, which is wholly owned by Marc Nunès, original CEO of Asmodee.  However, with Asmodee being such an important part of the French boardgame industry, it is perhaps unsurprising that their games take a lot of space on French website dedicated to boardgames. 

Tric Trac Logo
– Image from trictrac.net

With France’s foremost website in the hands of such a dominant force, there are concerns about a lack of critical objectivity and that Tric Trac could ultimately become a promotion channel for Asmodee.  It may be that with the retirement of it’s founder, Asmodee bought Tric Trac to ensure its survival and make sure the source of French-language boardgame media remains available and there is no sinister motive.  They have promised the team editorial freedom, but it is highly likely that Asmodee are the ones benefiting the most from the site anyhow, simply because they’re the biggest player in the market, especially given their history as a French company.  Since then, however, Asmodee have signed another distribution agreement, this time with Funforge, to distribute the French publisher’s titles in the U.S., and today they announced the acquisition of the Belgian publisher, Repos Production.  Repos are best known for games like 7 Wonders, Ghost Stories, Concept, Ca$h ‘n Guns and this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Just One.  Sometimes it seems like every successful company is a target and soon Asmodee will have a strangle-hold on the modern boardgame market.  Some people say they already have.

Repos Production
– Image from google.com

24th December 2019 – “Unofficial boardGOATS” on Christmas Eve

It being Christmas Eve, with many people away or having other plans and already having held our Christmas Party, we decided to have a quiet, “unofficial” meeting for those who fancied it.  As a result, there was no “Feature Game“, and just four to respond positively to a Doodle Poll. So, Pine and Lime joined Blue and Pink (newly arrived from Radio Oxford) for food and a chat before settling down to play some light games.  The first of these was Azul, winner of the Spiel des Jahres  and Deutscher Spiele Preis in 2018, a game we played a lot when it first came out at Essen in 2017, but has more recently been largely superseded by the newer versions (Stained Glass of Sintra and Summer Pavilion).

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Azul is very light and simple to play, but with surprising staying power.  Despite Azul being so popular with the group, Lime had somehow missed out so we had a run-down of the rules first.Players take coloured tiles from a central market and add them to rows on their player board next to their mosaic.  The rows are different lengths and can only hold one colour at a time.  For any rows that are complete at the end of a round, one of the tiles is moved into that players mosaic and the row is emptied for the next round.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

The clever part of the game is the tile market.  There are a number of “stalls” in the market, each holding four coloured tiles.  On their turn, the active payer can take all of one colour from one of the stalls moving the rest to the central pool, or alternatively, they can take all the tiles of one colour from the central pool.  Once all the tiles are gone, the round ends and tiles in the rows are moved across to the mosaic then the market is restocked from the draw bag.  Scoring occurs during the game when tiles are added to the mosaic, and bonus points are awarded at the end of the game for completed rows, columns and any colours which appear in each row/column.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink put all his efforts into trying to get bonus points for placing a full set of red tiles monopolising them early on and making it really hard for everyone else to get any.  It was a really, really tight game, and Lime put in an excellent show to take second place against much more experienced opposition.  He was just pipped by three points by Blue, who finished strongly taking bonus points for two completed columns.  Lime had enjoyed his first play and likes playing games twice so suggested a replay. With the relaxed atmosphere, everyone else was happy to go along with it.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

The second game wasn’t as tight as the first.  Pink collected more red tiles, annoying everyone else, again, and Blue was forced to take an eight point penalty which she thought was going to put her out of the game.  She made up for it by picking up bonus points for one complete column and a set of blue tiles and once again sneaked ahead of Lime.  Everyone was trampled into the dirt by Pine, however, with an enormous score—his first ever over a hundred.  As we were packing away, we discussed how he did it, and concluded that it was all about the scores from tile placement, and the bonus points really were, just that: a nice bonus, but not really something to aim for.

Azul
– Image by boardGOATS

The night was still young and everyone fancied playing something else.  In keeping with the relaxed nature of the evening, a pair of comfy slippers seemed in order, in this case, Ticket to Ride: London. This is a trimmed down version of the popular modern classic, Ticket to Ride.  All the game play is much the same: on their turn the active player, takes coloured cards into their hand or plays coloured cards to place pieces on the map trying to complete route cards they received at the start of the game.  In the original game, the cards and pieces were carriages, in this cut down version the cards depict other forms of transport and the pieces are buses, and players have fewer of them.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Points are placing trains on the map with the longest sections scoring more heavily.  In this cut down version, there are also bonus points for connecting stops in certain regions.  The biggest factor is usually the tickets however, as completed tickets score points, while incomplete tickets give negative points.  The active player may forfeit their turn, instead taking additional tickets, which adds an element of jeopardy: taking more tickets can add to the score, but if they aren’t fulfilled by the end of the game, it can be costly.  Pine started the game with two tickets giving long, roughly parallel routes that he thought he would be able to make work.  However, as is often the case with the cut-down versions of Ticket to Ride, the game started fast and Pine quickly realised he would be lucky if he could finish one and end with a positive score, never mind complete both.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

It was really tight around central London, and almost everyone struggled as others upset their plans.  This made for another tight game.  Blue finished the game by reducing her stock of buses to two first, and ended up with a winning score of forty largely thanks to a couple of fortunate tickets picked up late in the game.  Lime likes playing games more than once and suggested a rematch.  Pine, having had a really rough time the first time round was keen to improve on his first attempt and Pink and Blue were happy to go along with it.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine again picked up Regent’s Square to Elephant & Castle, but pairing this with a shorter route made  it much more achievable.  This time, Blue really struggled to place trains, and looked to be in a lot of trouble with only seventeen points when Pink brought the game to an early end.  Both Blue and Lime had nothing they could do on their final turn so were left with a decision: gamble on taking more tickets to try to get one that is already complete, or hope they had enough tickets already.  Both thought about it, but chose to forgo the gamble, which turned out to be the right choice.  In the final accounting, Blue picked up a massive twenty-three points from her tickets, to give her an unassailable total of forty (again—nothing if not consistent), dashing Pinks hopes, leaving him five points behind.  With that, everyone wished each other a Very Merry Christmas and headed home to put their stockings up.

Ticket to Ride: London
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  While GOATS love a good party, a quiet night can also be really enjoyable.

Boardgames in the News: Another Five Great Family Games to Play at Christmas

Four years ago, we posted a list of ten great games that are ideal to play with the family at Christmas.  That list is still valid of course, but there are so many great games out there now that we decided to put together another list of ten – and these are just as good!  As before, they are all readily available online and/or in dedicated boardgame shops.

    1. ICECOOL & ICECOOL2 – This is a fantastic little chase game guaranteed to get kids of all ages involved.  Players take it in turn to try to catch the others who are flicking their “Weeble-like” penguins around the three dimensional board collecting fish.  The two versions can also be combined to give different layouts and play twice as many people for twice as much fun.
      Target Audience: Families; ages 6+
      Game Time: From half an hour up.
      Price:  Approximately £30 from amazon.co.uk.

      ICECOOL
      – Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312
    2. Boom Boom Balloon – This is a very silly, simple game, that is a huge amount of fun for kids and adults alike.  Essentially, everyone takes it in turns to push sticks into a balloon with stress levels rising until it inevitably bursts.  The balloons are slightly toughened so they take a huge amount of punishment, ramping up the tension…
      Target Audience: Friends & Families with ages 2+
      Game Time: 5 mins though it takes a little time and puff to set up the balloon in the frame.
      Price:  £10-20 from amazon.co.uk.

      Boom Boom Balloon
      – Image by boardGOATS
    3. Ca$h ‘n Guns – Nothing says Christmas quite like waving a foam gun at Grandma!  This is a fun bluffing party game where players are gangsters and anyone left in at the end of the round shares the loot.  The player with the most loot after eight rounds is the winner.  Hilarious fun, but nowadays, the involvement of guns (even foam ones) means its not really suitable for children under ten.
      Target Audience: Older children and adults; ages 10+
      Game Time: 45-60 mins
      Price:  Readily available for around £25-30.

      Ca$h 'n Guns
      – Image by boardGOATS
    4. Azul – This is one that is likely to appeal to those who like Scrabble, but lose because they can’t be bothered to learn a dictionary off by heart.
      Target Audience: 10 and up
      Game Time: 30-45 minutes
      Price:  £30-40 from amazon.co.uk.

      Dobble
      – Image by boardgamephotos
    5. Just One – This is a clever party game where everyone plays together to do the best they can as a team.  A sort of “word charades”, in each round one person guesses which of five words is the right one, while everyone else offers clues.  With everyone working together, this is a lot of fun with a family group and ideal for families at Christmas.
      Target Audience: age 8+ though they need good literacy skills
      Game Time: 20 mins per game plus a few minutes setting up
      Price:  approximately £20 from amazon.co.uk.

      Just One
      – Adapted from image by BGG contributor kalchio

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!

Deutscher Spiele Preis – 2019

With “Essen” approaching, last week the Deutscher Spiele Preis list was announced. This is the result of an open vote by games clubs, gamers and people in the industry.  It typically rewards a slightly heavier game than the the Spiel des Jahres awards, but as the top ten are published, a range of tastes and complexities usually feature.  Last year number one on the list was Azul, the first game to win both the Deutscher Spiele Preis and the Spiel des Jahres since Dominion in 2009.  This year, the winner of the Deutscher Spiele Preis is the same as the winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres i.e. Wingspan (Flügelschlag in Germany).  This is a great card game with fantastic production values which is well deserving of the prize.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Other games in the top ten list include third placed Teotihuacan: City of Gods which is emotionally the sequel to the well received Tzolk’in: They Mayan Calendar and the hugely popular fifth placed Architects of the West Kingdom, both very solid “Euro Games”.  The Taverns of Tiefenthal, Underwater Cities and Newton also medium-heavy weight Euro games made the top ten too, as did the Spiel des Jahres winner, the light family game, Just One. Some slightly more unusual games were also recognised, including Spirit Island, a complex cooperative game, and in particular, Detective, which is a real-time puzzle game with an internet component. The Deutscher Spiele Preis for Best Children’s game went to Concept Kids: Tiere (Animals).  The prizes will be awarded at the International Spieltage, Essen.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

 

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?