Tag Archives: Azul

5th March 2019

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Auf Teufel komm raus
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Hare & Tortoise
– Image by boardGOATS

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sagrada
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Boardgames in the News: How to Spot Fake and Counterfeit Games

Over the last few months, there have been increasing numbers of reports of fake or counterfeit games.  The quality of these forgeries is extremely variable and a huge range of games appear to be affected, from popular gateway games like Ticket to Ride: Europe, 7 Wonders or Dominion to more complex games like Terraforming Mars.  Card games like Codenames might be thought of as an obvious target due to how simple they are to reproduce, however, one of the most affected games is Azul, and reports suggest that it is the cardboard components that are poor quality—the plastic tiles are indistinguishable from the genuine articles.

Codenames
– Image from czechgames.com

So, how does one spot a counterfeit board game?  The answer is basically the same as for anything else.  Firstly, look at the quality.  This is probably the strongest indicator and if the quality of the fake is particularly high the buyer might not mind so much, or even notice.  Things to look out for include:

Splendor
– Image from imgur.com by BGG contributor ceephour

Some counterfeits are very high quality however.  This can be due to the so-called third shift work“, where a game is made in a factory that is nominally closed overnight, but the workers gain access and create bootleg copies with stolen material or off-cuts. Some of these are very good, but in some cases they also use parts that failed the quality control tests.  In such cases, the seller maybe more of an indication.  If buying on ebay or Amazon market place, beware if the seller has a strange name, claims to be located in the UK but isn’t, and has a very long delivery time.  In such cases, the scam is often to get payment a long time in advance, so that by the time the item is delivered (if at all), they are long gone.

Terraforming Mars
– Image from imgur.com

Thirdly, don’t imagine that Amazon is safe either:  there are three types of transaction, “Shipped from and sold by third-party seller”, “Sold by third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon” and “Shipped and sold by Amazon”.  Amazon only “sells” authentic items, however due to “commingling“, their stock can become contaminated by fakes.  This is because when an item is sold by a third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon, the third-party seller ships their item to Amazon who add it to their pile in their warehouse before they ship it on.  If the third-party is dodgy, the person buying from them may get lucky and get a copy from Amazon’s stock which means someone else will be unlucky…

Finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is—caveat emptor: Buyer Beware!

19th February 2019

Blue, Black, Purple, Burgundy and Mulberry were just trying to squeeze in a quick game of No Thanks! before eating, when Green arrived with his parents.  They were quickly followed by the first round of food, so it wasn’t until they had finished that the carefully counted piles of chips finally got put to use.  The game is very simple:  players take it in turns to either take the card on the table or pay a chip to pass the problem on to the next player.  If they don’t have any chips left they must take the card when it is their turn (and any chips that are on it).  The game ends when the deck has been depleted and everyone scores the sum of the face value of the cards minus any remaining chips—the player with the lowest score is the winner.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Last time we played this, Pine dropped a chip, but a thanks to the kind generosity of the people at  Amigo Spiele, it had not only been very swiftly replaced, but they had kindly sent spares in case the something similar happened again.  And they were almost required straight away, when Black managed to send a couple of chips flying.  Having learnt our lessen from last time, we immediately took a quick intermission to play “Hunt the Game Piece”, finding one quickly, while the other perched precariously over the same large gap that the had been so disastrous last time.  The rogue chip was rescued without further calamity, but for the avoidance of other mishaps, we might have to put tissue paper down the hole for next time…

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game of No Thanks! was a bit incidental around all that excitement.  Burgundy took the first card in an effort to get ahead, but it wasn’t the best card to build from.  Purple and Blue were forced into trying to build runs from the ends, which is always risky, but can yield huge rewards.  This wasn’t going to be one of those times though and Purple’s problems were compounded by the fact that she only discovered the twenty-three in the middle of her long run was missing when it came to scoring.  Mulberry was very tempted by some if scoring cards, but despite the fact she was pushed to her last chip, she managed to avoid getting herself into a mess.  Black played a very canny game building a small medium value run, not tempted to take a chance on gaps.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone finished eating, it was time to decide what to play.  Black had suggested that Dixit might be suitable for Green’s parents.  However, Green was keen to play the “Feature Game”, Celestia (a remake of the older game, Cloud 9), and as Black was the only one who knew the rules, that meant he was up for that too.  Burgundy was less keen, so in the end, as Celestia is better with more players, and to avoid too much shuffling of seats, Blue, Mulberry and Burgundy left everyone else to board the airship.  In this game there is no board, instead there are nine city tiles making a path.  Players then take on the roles of adventurers exploring the cities of Celestia by airship.  At the beginning of each journey a new captain is identified and they begin by rolling the dice to discover the challenges they will face.  Before the Captain faces these challenges, however, however, each player must decide whether to stay on board, or leave the airship.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

At each city there is a pile of treasure cards (mostly just victory points) which get better as the journey progresses.  When a player leaves the ship, they take a treasure card at that city, forfeiting the potential riches to come.  Once everyone has made their decision, the Captain has to deal with the challenges by playing equipment cards.  If the Captain is successful, the airship moves on to the next city where a new captain is identified who rolls the dice and so on.  If the Captain is unable to deal with the challenges they face, the airship crashes, returning to the first city and none of the passengers on board get any treasure.  Those passengers who left the ship then get back on board for the start of the new journey.  When one  player has a total of fifty points the game ends.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the group added the A Little Help expansion which adds cards that players can use to help out the Captain.  There are a few extra cards like The Bandit and The Mooring Line as well, which players who are not on the ship can use to make life harder for those trying to get to the next city.  The group also added the lifeboat from the A Little Initiative expansion, which enables players to continue on their journey alone.  One of the key parts of Celestia is hand management as cards are scarce.  Players start with a hand of cards, six cards in a four or more player game and only get to draw a card when the journey ends, either due to a crash or arriving at the ninth city.  With the inclusion of the expansion cards, there seemed to be quite a bit to remember when learning the rules, but as ever, once underway the game flowed and the rules became clearer. Even so there was still a lot of double checking of which cards could be used when. Black and Purple had both played the game before and knew how quickly things could get difficult.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

So Black and Purple cashed in their travel tickets early in the first round and hopped off the airship quite early on, leaving everyone else wondering if they were missing something as they sailed onwards. In contrast, Green and his parents (who had not played before) stayed on board and as a result took a lot of points.  This all seemed a little too easy and on rechecking the rules it became apparent that something was wrong. Players had been drawing cards after arriving at each city as the Captain changed rather than after it crashed, which meant everyone was awash with cards.  From then on the group played correctly, but the damage had already been done.  The balance of cards had been destroyed, and Green and his mum had an unassailable lead.  Green came out he victor with some canny play that allowed him to hop on and off the airship, but it was a hollow victory as those first twenty-five points were not fairly won.  The game definitely deserves another try though as it is a clever and fun game when played correctly.

Celestia
– Image by boardGOATS

While the airship was being filled, Blue, Mulberry and Burgundy debated what they were going to play.  Orléans was very tempting, but as Celestia was supposed to be relatively quick, the trio decided to play the shorter Tokaido instead.  This is a simple, but very clever game where players are traveling the East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo), meeting people, tasting fine food, collecting beautiful items, discovering great panoramas, and visiting temples and wild places.  The winner is the player who discovers the most interesting and varied things and is the most initiated traveler.  The really clever part of the game is the turn order, because the player at the back goes first.  Although this is an unusual mechanism, it is not unique and is also seen in Glen More, an out of print game that is getting a face-lift and reprint this year as Glen More II: Chronicles.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that each location on the road can only be occupied by one player.  Players only ever move forward and the player at the back has a free choice of which empty location they move to.  They can choose to stop at the first empty location which means they will be able to maximise the number of locations they can visit, or they can choose to skip a few locations potentially gifting these to their opponents, but ensuring they stop at the locations they will profit most from.  Thus the game is all about optimising movement, compromising visiting the best locations, visiting the most locations and preventing opponents visiting the locations they want by getting there first.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player starts with a character card which gives them a different start condition and a special power.  Burgundy was positioned at the front playing Yoshiyasu enabling him to draw a second card whenever he encounters someone, and choose which one to keep Encounter cards give a one-off bonus, so being able to choose instead of relying on random draw is a nice advantage.  Mulberry started in second position on the track and as Kinko, was able to pay one Yen less for her food at mealtime.  There are several stops for food along the way and money is always scarce so anything that saves money is always good.  Blue began at the back (and therefore started), playing Sasayakko who gets the cheapest souvenir for free whenever she buys two or more when visiting the Village.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

In this game, it is essential that players make the most of their special powers, so Blue visited as many Villages as she could, collecting as many sets of souvenirs as she could.  To do this though, she need lots of money and money is not easy to come by.  Similarly, Burgundy stopped to make as many encounters as he could and coupled this with visiting the Hot Springs.  Hot Springs simply give a two or three point card drawn at random from a deck, with the three point cards depicting monkeys playing in the spring.  Somehow, every time Burgundy drew a Hot Spring card, it featured monkeys, while Blue and Mulberry received no monkey-love; after his fifth card it was something they really began to resent.

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was the first to score points and Burgundy wasn’t far behind.  Blue was slowest off the mark, but eventually caught up and overtook the others, romping into the lead, helped by Burgundy who persisted in moving Blue’s token when he scored points.  That wasn’t the full story, however.  At the end of the game points are awarded to the players with the most Hot Spring cards, the most Encounter cards, the most Souvenirs, for donating money at the Temples, and for the player who spent the most on food.  With Burgundy taking the vast majority of these points, he caught up and, after several recounts, both Blue and Burgundy finished on eighty-one points with Mulberry not far behind.  With more achievement cards, Burgundy was the clear winner, but he’d tried to be generous with his points throughout the game and insisted on sharing victory with Blue (to go with the lack of sleep they shared).

Tokaido
– Image by boardGOATS

Celestia was still going and wasn’t looking like it was going to be finished very soon, so Blue,  Burgundy and Mulberry decided to try something else.  After a bit of discussion, they opted for a new game by the producers of the Spiel des Jahres and Deutscher Spiele Preis winner, Azul, that had been brought back from Essen late last year.  Blue had played Reef with Pink, Black and Purple after The Gallerist during a recent “Monster Games” session, but otherwise it hadn’t made it to the table.  It isn’t a complex game though and is very quick to teach:  on their turn, players can either take a card from the pool of face up cards, or play a card, adding the pieces of coral depicted in the top half to their reef and then scoring the pattern shown in the bottom half of the card.

Reef
– Image by boardGOATS

The reefs are a three by four grid and the pieces of coral can be played anywhere and can stack up to a maximum height of four.  Scoring the patterns is as viewed from above, and each one can be scored several times with different patterns worth different numbers of points.  This means there are two approaches to the game, scoring low but frequently, or building to one large score.  Mulberry opted for the first approach and facilitated this with single colour piles of coral.  Blue tried the alternative strategy, building to a large twenty-plus point score, while Burgundy tried a mixture.  As a result, Mulberry quickly built up a healthy lead, and the question was whether the others would catch her or not.  It was close, very close, with just four points covering all three players.  This time though, little and often was the winner, and Mulberry finished with forty-two points, one more than Burgundy.

Reef
– Image by boardGOATS

Celestia was still going, so Mulberry stayed to play one last game, San Juan.  This is an old game from the Alea Small Box Series that is sometimes referred to as the card game of Puerto Rico.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player chooses a role, Builder, Producer, Trader, Prospector, Councillor and then everyone takes it in turn to carry out the associated action.  The person who chose the action gets to use the privilege of the role (pay one less for building, trade or produce one extra item etc.).  One of the clever things about the game is that cards have multiple purposes, similar to Bohnanza where cards can be money or beans.  In San Juan, each card can be played onto the table as a building, but when in hand they can be used as payment, and during the game they can be used as produce as well.  Each card has a value when built and there are a small number of special buildings whose score depends on the other buildings in play.  The game ends when a player builds their twelfth building.

San Juan
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry was tired and really struggled, so Blue and Burgundy tried to help explain what she could do, certain she’d get the hang of it.  They stressed the importance of not getting left behind on the building, a message Mulberry took to heart, building at every opportunity.  Blue made life difficult for everyone though, building a Guardhouse reducing everyone else’s hand limit to six.  Burgundy saw one of the valuable six point plus violet building cards early in the game, but that was it, so he ended up building lots of production facilities.  Blue on the other hand built lots of violet buildings and with it a City Hall giving her one point per violet building.  In the meantime, Mulberry kept building so when Blue failed to spot she had eleven buildings she accidentally triggered the final round.  It was very, very tight, but somehow, Blue just kept her nose in front finishing with twenty-three points, one more than Burgundy and two more than Mulberry.

San Juan
– Image by boardGOATS

In the meantime, Celestia had finally come to an end.  With Green and his parents wanting to leave and Pine finally putting in an appearance after a long day bird watching in the West Country, the group we went for a very short game, one about birds: Pick Picknic.  This game combines simultaneous card selection with bluffing and a slice of luck.  The idea is that there are six farm  yards of different colours, if someone plays the only chicken card of a given colour, they get all the grain at that coloured farm.  If multiple players go for the same coloured yard, then players can either agree to share the corn in any way that is mutually acceptable or roll the die for all of it.  Foxes don’t eat corn, however, they only eat chickens, so if someone plays a fox card, they will eat any chicken cards of that colour.  This time there seemed to be a lot of hungry foxes, and lots of fighting birds.

– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

These were accompanied by the usual exclamations as people realised that their attempt to grab a pile of corn was stymied by someone else’s decision.  It was a close game, with four players within four points of each other.  It was tight at the front too with just a handful of points between first and second place, but it was Purple who just edged Green’s father into second place.  With that over Family Green headed off and, as Burgundy was still occupied playing San Juan, everyone else felt it was a good opportunity to play Splendor as someone else would have a chance to win.  Splendor is a game we’ve played a lot and it is ideal for late in the evening when everyone is tired because it doesn’t need too much thought.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Splendor is very simple:  players take it in turns to take gems (chips) or use the gems to buy cards from the display.  Cards can be used to buy other cards, but some of the cards also give points, and collecting certain combinations of cards allows players to claim a Noble tile giving more points.  Essentially, it is a race to fifteen points, though as players finish the round (so everyone gets the same number of turns), it is the player with the most points who wins.  This time the game started with everyone evenly matched.  There was a lot of overlap in the colours required to claim Nobles tiles, so they were claimed at much the same time.  Then Black took the lead and although both Purple and Pine were close to adding to their respective totals, Black’s score of nineteen was unassailable.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Close Games are Good Games.

13th Movember 2018

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

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

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

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

Fruit Friends
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Jenga
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Rock-Paper-Scissors
– Image from theguardian.com

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Imaginarium
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Boardgames in the News: Does “More Mainstream” = “Less Friendly”?

Modern board gaming has always been a very inclusive and friendly hobby, if niche.  For example, people attending conventions often carry games home for friends, but more surprisingly, they also often carry games for complete strangers.  This can require trust from either or both parties: sometimes it is the “mule” who pays for the goods, sometimes items are preordered and paid for in advance and then collected by the “mule” and posted on.  Similarly trusting are those that take part in the “Maths Trades“.  These are multi-person trades which happen in a loop with everyone receiving a game from one person and giving a game to somebody different.  Obviously if one person fails to honour their part of the deal, the whole thing breaks down.  Yet these things happen on a huge scale with hundreds of people participating, and although there are occasionally problems, most people are very happy with the result and take part again and again.

M.U.L.E.
– Image from lautapelit.fi

As the hobby grows, the first signs of change are perhaps becoming visible.  For example, earlier this year voting for the Deutscher Spiele Prize was closed four days early due to attempted vote-rigging.  It seems an online video blogger claimed he had a special deal with the publishers of one of the games in the running, KLONG! (aka Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure), Schwerkraft Verlag.  He posted a video syaing that if the game won the award, he and all the followers of his YouTube Channel would get a promo card for the game.  Schwerkraft denied any involvement, but around a hundred votes were cancelled (about half of which only placed the one game) and other people were unable to vote at all because voting was stopped prematurely.  The organisers of the Deutscher Spiele Prize say Azul‘s position at the top was never in doubt and KLONG! would not have won in any case.  It might have improved on its eventual seventh place though, perhaps threatening the positions of Heaven & Ale and Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 (which finished in fifth and sixth respectively).

Ludicreations at Essen 2016
– Image from kickstarter.com

Perhaps this could be seen merely as a gamer trying to game the system, but whatever, it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.  More serious was the series of thefts from stalls that occurred at Essen this year.  It was not the first time money had been taken from a stand—famously, at Essen in 2016, Ludicreations had a cash box stolen, containing about €3,500.  R&R Games were also robbed that day, but the Ludicreations theft is known more widely thanks to their response.  Such a loss can be very significant for a small company, so inspired by the theft, they designed a game called Steal this Game and launched it on KickStarter, raising over $50,000.  This year the fair grew and so did the thefts.  Six companies fell victim this time, Artipia Games, FoldedSpace, Greenbrier Games, Gotha Games, Hub Games and Japanime Games.  Reportedly, the thieves got away with a total over €20,000, but not without loss themselves as staff on the Artipia stand (ironically demoing their new game A Thief’s Fortune) realised what was happening.  Although they weren’t quick enough to stop the theft, they succeeded in detaining one of the decoys.

Essen 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

There is no suggestion these crimes were carried out by boardgamers, in fact, the Police have said that they were a professional team.  Two people distracted the cashier by bombarding them with questions and a third then swiped the cash-box.  Efforts are now underway to recoup the losses which were mostly uninsured.  Japanime Games are collecting donations, while Artipia Games have launched a KickStarter campaign for five promo cards.  Attention has also turned to trying to prevent the same thing happening next year.  There have been calls for more vendors to take card payments, however that is not without its problems.  This was amply demonstrated at the UK Games Expo this year which coincided with a Europe-wide Visa systems failure leaving many gamers unable to pay for their purchases.  There is also a question mark over whether the infrastructure available at the Messe would be able support everyone moving to card transactions at such a bug fair with such a large commercial component.  For these reasons, Merz Verlag (the company who run Spiel) are focussing on increasing security and making it much more visible.  Conversation is still on-going and it remains to be seen how much these changes will alter the feel of the show.  One thing is clear, however, the wider world has discovered our little hobby and that brings some unpleasant consequences.

Essen 2018
– Image from spiel-messe.com

16th October 2018

Blue was late after an unscheduled nap, so Burgundy consumed the first half of his supper alone.  Blue was quickly followed by Ivory and Pine and then a new visitor, Navy.  With Cobalt last week (who was busy moving house this week so couldn’t come) that makes two new people in two weeks.  Navy is a more experienced gamer and is into slightly more confrontational games than those we normally play, but that’s good as it might encourage us to leave our comfort-zone of cuddly Euros set in medieval Germany.  As we were all introducing ourselves, Green, and then Black and Purple turned up and the discussion moved on to how we choose the “Feature Game” (Blue suggests something to Green who mostly replies that he’s never heard of it, but it sounds quite interesting…).  Recent discussions have centred round the new Key Flow (aka “Keyflower the card Game”) for the next meeting and maybe Imaginarium (or, “The One With The Elephant on the Front” as Navy referred to it).  With that, Green started getting out this week’s “Feature Game“, which was Greed, a card drafting game where players are crime lords trying to earn more money than anyone else through clever use of their cards.

Imaginarium
– Image by BGG contributor W Eric Martin

At it’s heart, Greed is a quite simple, card-drafting game with a healthy dose of “take that” and a gangster theme.  Players start with a hand of twelve cards and “draft” three cards  (i.e. choose a cards and pass the rest on, three times).  Players then simultaneously choose one card then together reveal this card and action it before the it is replaced with another drafted card.  A total of ten cards are played in this way per person before the players tally their holdings and the player with the highest value is the winner.  Obviously, the game is all about the cards and there are three types, Thugs, Holdings and Actions, but it is the combination of these that is critical.  Actions have a unique effect associated with them while Thugs and Holdings typically also have a cost or a condition associated with them (e.g. cash paid to the bank or a collection of symbols on cards held).  Holdings are the key however.  When a Holding is played a token is placed on that card for each symbol on it and an additional token for each symbol of that type already possessed. These tokens are worth $10,000 each at the end of the game which is added to the value of cash collected through card plays.

Greed
– Image from kickstarter.com

Although it was Green’s game he had only played it once and that was over a year ago, while Burgundy had read up on it.  Pine and Navy had joined them to make the foursome.  The game takes a few rounds to understand how it really works.  After that, it’s quite easy to play, but working out which card to take and which to play is much harder, as they all seem to be really good. Unfortunately Navy struggled a bit at the beginning and made mistakes in his first couple of plays as he either found he couldn’t actually play his chosen card and had to just ditch it, or wasn’t able to get the indicated bonus. However, as he had not accumulated any wealth early on, it also meant he didn’t lose any when Green played a couple of cards which meant everyone else lost dollars, which leveled the scores a little.  Burgundy’s preparation really helped when he played a Holding card and proceeded to place six tokens on it, so by the half way mark it was looking like a two horse race between Burgundy and Green with both Navy and Pine looking short on cards.

Greed
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Through the second half of the game, Pine really got the hang of it and started raking in the dollars and had quite a pile of cash. Green then played a Holding card which enabled him to add chits equaling the same number as the maximum on another players cards, which meant he was able to gain from Burgundy’s excellent earlier play.  In the final rounds, Green played another card which removed one of his holdings only to be able to play it again the following round with even more tokens than it had previously. There was a brief discussion as to whether he should get the usual amount for it as well as the removed ones and two extras, a decision that went in Green’s favour, but the real question was whether it would be enough to beat Burgundy.  In the end, it was close, but the answer was no and Green finished with $30,000 behind Burgundy’s winning total of $235,000.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the next table everyone was being indecisive, but in the end the decision was made in favour of Roll for the Galaxy.  This is a game that really fascinated the group for a while because somehow it behaves differently to everything else we play and we really struggled to get to grips with it.  At the time, we concluded that our struggles were probably because we weren’t playing it enough so effectively had to learn it afresh every time we played.  For this reason we went through a phase of playing it quite a bit, but that was some months ago now and it was definitely time for another outing.  In principle, it is not a difficult game and the core mechanism is similar to the so-called “deck builders” (like Dominion) or “bag builders” (like Orléans or Altiplano), except instead of building a deck of cards or a bag of action tokens, players are building their supply of dice.  In Roll for the Galaxy, each different die colour reflects the different distributions of the dice, so for example, white “Home” dice feature each of the symbols for Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship once and Explore twice.  On the other hand, the yellow “Alien Technology” dice have three faces that depict the asterisk (“Wild”) and one each of Develop, Settle and Produce.  Thus, where probability affects which cards or tokens are drawn in the other games, in Roll for the Galaxy, players have more control over which dice they are using, but chance affects how those dice roll.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In principle, Roll for the Galaxy is not a difficult game and the basic mechanism is similar to that in Dominion or Orléans/Altiplano, except instead of building a deck or a bag of action tokens, players are building their supply of dice.  Each different die colour reflects the different distributions of the dice, so for example, white “Home” dice feature each of the symbols for Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship once and Explore twice.  On the other hand, the yellow “Alien Technology” dice have three faces that depict the asterisk (“Wild”) and one each of Develop, Settle and Produce.  Thus, where probability affects which cards or tokens are drawn in the other games, in Roll for the Galaxy, players have more control over which dice they are using, but chance affects how those dice roll.  Although the dice are important, like Greed, the game is really all about the special powers the players’ tableau, in this case made up of World tiles rather than cards.  Ultimately the game is really a race to trigger the end of the game is when the victory point chip pool runs out or a player builds their twelfth World.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Game play is mostly simultaneous:  players roll their dice and  allocate them to their phase strip.  Each player can choose one phase that they guarantee will happen, so in a four player game there is a maximum of four phases per round and where players choose the same phase there will be fewer, sometimes even only one.  The phases are:  Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce & Ship which correspond to draw Worlds from a bag; “spend” dice to build development Worlds;  “spend” dice to build production Worlds; place dice on production Worlds, and move dice from production Worlds in exchange for either victory points or money (which in turn can be used to speed up recycling of dice).  While we were setting up Ivory regaled us with the first few pages of Julia Donaldson’s “The Gruffalo”.  We will miss him and his stories when he takes his paternity leave in the new year.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor The Innocent

Blue began with the poor starting combination of a level six development World and a level one settlement, or a a level one development World and a level six settlement so began by rectifying the problem by exploring.  The game rocked along at a merry lick, with Black and Purple building and Ivory thrilled that he finally managed to build his first ever “Alien Technology World”, a feat he quickly followed with his second. Blue was slower building, but had a few high value developments and made good use of these before she began collecting some victory points.  This started a sudden cascade of Black and Ivory collecting points as well.  As a result, everyone focused on the number of victory point chips as the end game trigger, so much so that nobody, spotted that Purple had built her twelfth World.  As the group was just about to start the next round and everyone likes seeing their plans fulfilled, they played on anyhow.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor dodecalouise

Although it was a very tight game and everyone added to their scores, the extra round probably didn’t make any difference to the final placings.  Black and Ivory took over twenty victory points in chips alone, but they were offset by Blue’s high value Worlds and bonus points which gave her fifty-six points, just three more than Black in second place.  Everyone enjoyed the game, but there was one non-game highlight: Green’s sad little face when he looked across and broke off from setting up Greed with the sad comment, “Oh, They’re playing Roll for the Galaxy…”  Well, as everyone had a good time and with players getting quicker at it, it’s less of a labour than it used to be, so it surely won’t be long before he gets a chance to play it again.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Greed finished first and as it was still early there time for another game, but nobody wanted to have a late night so the group picked something shorter and settled on this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul.  This was another game that was new to Navy, but it is very popular in the group and we’ve played it a lot.  Players are tiling a wall, taking tiles of one colour either from one of the factories (putting the rest in the central pool) or from the central pool.  Tiles are added to rows on the players’ boards and at the end of the round one tile from each full row is transferred to the players’ mosaics.  The aim is obviously to fill all the rows to transfer the maximum number of tiles, however, any excess tiles score negative points.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Navy quickly got the hang of this one and all the scores were close for a lot of the game, though it was noted how neat Green’s mosaic was looking as he managed to fill the first left hand vertical row and nearly completed the second as well before placing anywhere else.  Burgundy and Pine were both less tidy, but was still picking up extra points for connecting tiles when placing them. Although Navy’s board was a little more scattered, but that would help him to catch up later.  Everyone thought they were entering what would be the final final round with  three players with at least one row just one tile from completion, amazingly nobody completed them and everyone get one extra round.  This meant the group actually ran out of tiles to place on the central discs, triggering the end game in different way.  After this final round and final scoring, Pine finished on top of the podium, ahead of Burgundy in  second place with Navy in a very respectable third in a close game.

Azul
– Image by BGG Contributor styren

While Roll for the Galaxy was finished, there was a bit of chit-chat about strategy and it was clear that to do well at the game, you also need to keep a close eye on what everyone else is doing too. This can be tricky when you are struggling to work out what to do on your own board however.  Winning or losing though, Azul is a nice game that always delivers a challenge; it will be interesting to see how the new stand-alone version of the game, Stained Glass of Sintra compares and if it is as good or better than the original, or whether it “does a Queendomino or Tsuro of the Seas“.  No doubt we will find out in due course.  With that, those that wanted an early night headed for home, leaving Black, Purple, Burgundy and Blue with time for one last, shortish game.  Black suggested San Juan which had been played at the last Didcot Games Club meeting, and everyone else concurred.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

Essentially, San Juan is sometimes referred to as “Puerto Rico the Card Game”, but in truth they are very different games although the artwork and roll selection is similar.  In practice, it is actually a simpler version of the card version of Roll for the Galaxy, Race for the Galaxy.  The game uses the same multi-purpose card mechanism seen in games like Bohnanza, though in this case, cards can be buildings, goods, or money.  The idea is that players take it in turns to choose a “role” and then everyone carries out the action associated with that role, though person who chose it carries out with the “privilege”, a slight advantage.  The roles are Councillor; Prospector; Builder, Producer and Trader.  Players have a hand of cards and can use the Builder to build these cards to paying for them with other cards from their hand.  Hands are replenished directly using the Councillor or Prospector.  However, it is much more efficient to build an engine using production buildings.  These take cards from the deck and turns them into goods when a player chooses the Producer role; when the Trader role is chosen, these goods can be traded for cards according to the current value depicted on the tally stick.  The game end is triggered when someone builds their twelfth building.

San Juan
– Image by BGG contributor Aldaron

Black and Burgundy were quick out of the traps building their efficient production engine, with high value coffee and silver producers.  Purple started with “purple buildings” before also moving into sugar production and then Monuments.  Blue on the other hand started with a hand full of nice looking purple civic buildings that she didn’t want to part with and after three rounds hadn’t seen a production building, so decided to try something different and built a Tower (to increase her hand limit from seven to twelve) and started building.  Elsewhere on the table Burgundy was stealing a march on everyone else, adding a Well, Smithy, Aqueduct and Market Hall to his high value buildings.  When he added a Library which enabled him to use his privilege twice, he began turning over cards at a phenomenal rate and it looked like the writing was on the wall.  Everyone was keeping a careful eye on everyone else, trying to make sure they didn’t fall behind in the number of buildings they had, and before long, the game end was triggered and it was the final round then the scores were added up.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

After the scores had been added up, Black bemoaned the lack of the endgame scoring bonus cards that rewarded the production buildings and monuments that he had been collecting (Guild Hall and Triumphal Arch).  It was then that Blue explained that she had been stashing them under her Chapel as she had no use for them and didn’t want the others to have them.  It was possible that this tactic made the difference, as despite having only two production buildings, her City Hall and Chapel delivered a massive thirteen bonus points, just enough to offset the cheaper buildings she had been forced to build.  Remarkably, Blue finished with thirty-one points, four ahead of the “Production King” Burgundy.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Learning Outcome:  Though difficult, it is important to keep a close eye on what everyone else is doing.

Deutscher Spiele Preis – 2018

This week the The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize list was announced with first prize going to Azul.  Typically the Deutsche Spiele Preis rewards a slightly heavier game than the the Spiel des Jahres awards, but for the first time since Dominion in 2009, one game took both awards.  This year we haven’t played many of the games on either list, but our first game of Azul was shortly after it’s release at Essen last year and our local groups have played the spots off it since.  So, it is no surprise to us that it has been recognised by both the Spiel des Jahres Jury and the voters from the industry’s stores, magazines, professionals and game clubs, as well as taking the French award at Cannes, the As d’Or and the Origins “Best Family Game of the Year”.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Other games that featured on the top ten list included the winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres award, Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg (currently only available in German) and one of the runners-up, Heaven & AleThe Mind, which received a nomination for the Spiel des Jahres Award, also featured in the top ten, as did the inevitable Pandemic Legacy: Season 2.  Other than Azul, the only game we’ve played is Altiplano, and that squeaked in at number ten, but Rajas of the Ganges and Clans of Caledonia may feature in the not too far distant future.  The Deutscher Spiele Preis for Best Children’s game went to Memoarrr!.  The prizes will be awarded at the International Spieltage, Essen.

Azul
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor Vacabck