Tag Archives: Bellz!

15th December 2015

It was a bit of a disparate night: Blue was late thanks to a disastrous day at work and Black and Purple were able to come for the first time in ages, but arrived even later and hadn’t had any supper.  So after Red, Burgundy and Magenta had finished discussing JunKing, Red, Burgundy, Magenta, Pine and Green played a quick game of The Game.  This simple cooperative game has very simple rules:  Play a minimum of two cards on any of the four piles following the appropriate trend – two piles must always increase, two decrease; the exception to this is if you can play a card where the interval is exactly ten in the wrong direction (known as “The Backwards Rule”).  Players can talk about anything so long as there is no specific number information given and the aim is to cooperatively get rid of all ninety-eight cards by playing them on to the four piles.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

With a hand of just six cards and some players staring with nothing but high cards and others with only cards between forty and sixty, it was always going to be challenging.  In our experience, playing with five is also more difficult, so as a result, at the start of the game expectations weren’t high.  As usual, there were howls of horror as players were forced to play cards that others didn’t want.  Magenta started out with a really nice combo of four cards, but after that everyone just stepped on everyone else’s toes.  Eventually though, much to everyone’s surprise, the deck was gradually whittled down and before long the final cards were drawn from the deck and players were looking to maximise the number of cards they were going to play from their hand.  With only one playable pile at the end it was always going to be difficult and unfortunately, Burgundy was forced to bring the game to a close leaving a combined holding of five cards.

The Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

With Blue finished and Black and Purple just arriving, we decided that the week’s “Feature GameBetween Two Cities would be nice and quick.  Sometimes (like last week) “nice and quick” turns out to be “a bit slow”, but this one has simple rules and rattles along at a good pace.  The game is set in the early 1800s, a time of immense construction and urbanization with players designing new cities.  It is an unusual game as players work in pairs building two cities, one with the each person they are sat next to.  The cities are made up of square tiles and the final layout is a four by four grid.  Since players gradually add tiles to their city, the amount of available space decreases and players have to be more discerning about where they build.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over three rounds.  The first and third are tile drafting rounds, similar to games like 7 Wonders and Sushi Go!, except that players are drafting small square tiles instead of cards.  So, in these first and last rounds, each player begins with seven tiles, everyone simultaneously chooses two, and passes the rest on.  Once everyone has chosen, players can discuss what to play and where, before placing one tile in each of their cities and then picking up their next hand.  In the first rounds cards are passed to the left, in the third round to the right.  Between these two rounds, players are dealt three double sized tiles each from which they choose two to play.  Since these must be placed the right way up and can be in either horizontal or vertical configurations, the choice and placement of these is quite critical, and are probably key producing the best city.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

Each city is scored separately at the end of the game and the winner is the player with who gets the most points for their lowest scoring city.  Points are awarded to each city for each building in it, but the score depends on the type of building and where it is placed.  For example, yellow shops score when placed in a row.  A single, isolated shop will score just one point, but two adjacent shops score five and three in a row score a total of ten.  Similarly, the first green park tile will score just two points, but if three are placed in a group, they will score twelve points.  The scoring for some buildings depends on what else is present in the city however.  Houses flourish best when there are a variety of other types of building nearby, so their score depends on the number of different buildings across the whole city.  On the other hand, nobody likes living next to a factory, so a brown house tile next to a grey factory tile will score just one point regardless of everything else.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

Only Burgundy and Green had played the game before, but as Burgundy explained when people asked for advice, although he’d played well and even won in the past, he never had any idea how.  So everyone was on their own pretty much,  and when the first hand of tiles were dealt out, it felt like a bit of a lottery.  As the game progressed, everyone discussed what they were trying to do with their neighbours and, before long players were struggling to find the best tiles to play to maximise their final scores.  Magenta was trying to decide which of her two cities (shared with Blue and Red) should have the final entertainment establishment and a complete set, and Pine and Burgundy were busily industrialising their city to pick up a few extra points.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

In the final scoring, it was Blue and Magenta who’s city came out best with sixty-three, though the winning city is usually irrelevant.  In Between Two Cities, players total up the points for both cities, but it is their lowest score that is compared and the higher is only a tie-breaker.  Thus, players are trying to maximise both cities equally.  In this case however, the second best city was built by Blue and Burgundy, so Blue took first, with Magenta in second place.  This game was a win all round though as everyone had enjoyed it.  The game was originally funded though KickStarter, and these games often feel a bit incomplete and lacking in finishing touches.  This one, however, had a really good feel about it, the right amount of length for its depth and beautifully executed – definitely a game that will come out again.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

With Black and Purple finished and ready to play, there was some debate about what to go for.  Green had been desperate to play Rockwell for about three years, so when he heard Blue had brought it, he was keen to give it a go.  Meanwhile, Purple had been feeling aggrieved at the fact that Snow Tails had been shouted down at the previous Didcot Games Club meeting, so when Black said he would play it with her that pretty much set the games and everyone divided into two groups, with Magenta and Red joining Black and Purple to race dog sleds.

Snow Tails
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Snow Tails is a fun dog-sled-racing game where players built round a deck building and control mechanic.  Each player starts with a sled drawn by two huskies.  At the start of the game, each dog has a speed of three, and the break is also applied at a level of three.  Thus, the sled-speed is the sum of the dogs minus the value of the break, i.e. everyone begins with a speed of three so and move three spaces forward.  In addition, since the dogs are pulling evenly, this movement is in a straight line, but the also sled achieves a bonus equal to their position in the race.  On the other hand, if the left dog had a speed of four and the right hand dog had a speed of two, although the sum would be the same, the difference of two means that the sled must also drift two lanes to the left.  This “drift” can be applied at any point during the sleds move, so two of the moves are diagonal rather than just straight ahead.

Snow Tails
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each player begins the game with the same deck of cards  – five sets of cards numbered one to five, shuffled, from which they draw a hand of five cards.  On their turn, the active player must play at least one card, but may play up to three cards, so long as they all have the same value.  These cards are used to update either or both dogs, and/or the break.  When they have completed their move, players draw cards from their personal deck back up to the hand-limit of five.  Thus, players use their cards to navigate their sleds round the avoiding obstacles and attempting to observe the speed restrictions.  Failure to do either incurs penalty “dent” cards which go into the player’s hand reducing the number of playable cards.  This reduces their ability to control their sled and increasing the chance of them hitting obstacles and getting more dent cards, thus chaos reigns.

Snow Tails
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The track is custom built, and we started off trees and finished with a sharp bend.  Black got the best start and, got lucky through the pines giving him a healthy lead which he held throughout.  The race for second place was very tight however, with Purple, Red and Magenta taking it in turns at the front of the pack.  Eventually, Red lost ground round a sharp corner and Purple finally got her nose ahead of Magenta to take second place.

Snow Tails
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, it was quickly becoming clear that Rockwell was a much more complex undertaking.  Not only were there an enormous number of pieces to sort out, it was also a few weeks since Green had read the rules.  The rules were quite complex and Blue’s, Burgundy’s and Pine’s very puzzled expressions had changed to confused bemusement long before Green had finished explaining.  The gist of the game is that players are the managers of a mining company, each with four drilling teams.  Each round is made up of four phases:  first players deploy their two managers, then they deploy their drilling teams, next they can sell or buy resources in the market and finally players can buy upgrades, for example, making their drilling teams more effective.

Rockwell
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, at its heart, the game is a worker placement and it is all about how players deploy their managers and then how they use their resources once they have got them.  These are just the sort of game Green likes best and also the sort of game Burgundy excels at.  In the fiddling with the small rules, however, we’d sort of lost sight of how players actually win:  basically there are achievement tiles and when people manage to fulfill the requirements of an achievement tile, they take the top one off the pile.  Since these are sorted so that their value decreases, there is an advantage to getting there first.  The achievements are a little strange and it took Pine a moment to grasp that, for example, players only needed to have eight zinc and eight copper to qualify for a tile; they did not need to actually spend the resources.  Players can also trade resources for points in the upgrade phase, though in this case, the resources are returned to the main supply.

Rockwell
– Image by BGG contributor Rayreviewsgames

There  are definitely a few very clever mechanics in the game and it is also beautifully produced with a lot of thought going into the design and rendition.  The game board is circular, but is made of slightly curved tiles forming concentric layers so that the layout is different every time and players don’t know which resources will be produced where.  Players move their mining teams around and between the strata and a layer is mined when an appropriate number of miners are there.  Since each player starts with four teams of one spread out evenly around the surface and the first layers need a total of three or four, this means there is necessarily cooperation and player interaction in the game.  Once the total for a given mine has been exceeded, the tile is turned over, and a corresponding card drawn indicating the resources to be allocated.  Unusually, these resources are divided up equally regardless of the number of miners each player has contributed, however, the left-overs (dubbed “The Lion’s Share”) are given to the player with “priority”, a point we mostly never truly got to grips with.

Rockwell
– Image by boardGOATS

It was always going to be one of those games.  The other table were well under way before Green had even finished reading the rules and once he had, everyone was still a bit clueless as to what to do, so it was largely through chance that Blue managed to pick up the first achievement tile.  At which point, perhaps in shock, Green dropped a pale blue zinc cube on the floor and the next half hour was punctuated by people hunting for it.  Black took a couple of breaks from the husky racing and made curiosity type noises as he passed and tried to work out how the game was going.  After the first couple of rounds, players finally began to understand what they were trying to do, though the rules of who got “The Lion’s Share” remained pretty baffling right up to the end.

Rockwell
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Before long, Burgundy was also picking up achievement tiles followed by Pine, but by this time Snow Tails was coming to an end.  This led to a discussion about how much longer Rockwell was going to take, at which point, Blue realised her watch had stopped and it was nearly midnight…  Yes, it was definitely one of those games!  Green decided we were unlikely to make it to the end, the game would take some time packing up and his curfew was approaching.  So in the end we just scored what points we had and left it at that.  Everyone felt they were on the way to pulling in points, but it was Burgundy who had the most with fourteen, four clear of Blue with ten.  Despite his confusion, Pine had picked up five points and only Green had failed to score, largely because he was focusing on the rules.  It was a very unsatisfactory end and we definitely have unfinished business with Rockwell.

Rockwell
– Image by boardGOATS

Packing up didn’t take as long as predicted, and Pine did eventually find the missing zinc cube only for Blue to throw a white cube on the floor instead and the Great Cube Hunt to begin again.  With Red and Magenta waiting for their lift, there was some discussion about starting a quick game of Bellz!, but despite its festive feel, there wasn’t really time even for that.  So it was Christmas Greetings all round and time for home.

Rockwell
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Don’t start long complicated games after 9.30 pm, especially if they are new!

17th Movember 2015

While Burgundy, Magenta and Blue were busy feeding, we decided to play something to keep Pine from eating too many of the chips, so for the third games night running, we had a quick mess about with magnets and bells in Bellz!.  It was another close game with some slightly borderline shaking and other sneaky efforts.  Before long though after incredible snatch taking two medium bells as he moved faster than magnetism, Burgundy had only one large bell left.  This solitary bell was very effectively trapped though and he failed to take the opportunity leaving Blue to close out.  Pine followed, despite the fact that he claimed he was no good at dexterity games.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor SpeedD

With people still finishing, we looked for another light game that people could play while wielding cutlery, and No Thanks! fitted the bill.  This is a very simple game that we used to play quite a lot, but recently has languished in the box, usurped by newer fare.  The game is very simple:  from a shuffled deck of thirty-three cards (numbered three to thirty-five), nine cards are removed and the top card turned face up.  The first player has a choice they can either take the card or pay a chip and pass the problem on to the next player.  This player can either take the card and the chip or pay a chip and so on.  At the end of the game the face values of each player’s cards are totalled (offset by any remaining chips) and the player with the lowest number is the winner.  The catch is that if players have consecutive cards, only the lowest counts, which is where the fun really starts.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

The game is all about keeping your nerve and picking up the right card at the right time.  Burgundy began by picking up some high cards, while Pine started with a few cards in the twenties and teens.  Blue and Magenta stuck it out as long as they could before they were forced to take something.  Somehow Blue managed to avoid anything really horrid until the last card when Magenta persuaded Burgundy to hand it on leaving her with a whopping sixty-nine and last place.  With Burgundy unable to get the cards he needed to extend his run, that left just Magenta and Pine with Pine taking it by four points with just twenty three points.

No Thanks!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Not expecting anyone else to arrive, we decided to move onto the “Feature Game” which was Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.  This is a tile laying game with some similarity to Carcassonne, except that players have their own map and the tiles are auctioned.  Played over six rounds, players start by earning income for their clan’s territory, getting five gold for their castle and one for each whiskey distillery (barrels) connected to their castle by road.  Next, each player draws three tiles from a bag and places them in a row in front of their screen.  In private, the players then allocate piles of coins to two of the tiles and a mattock marker to the third.  The coins represent the cost anyone buying a tile will have to pay, while the mattock indicates which tile will be discarded.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Once everyone has decided the value of their tiles, the screens are removed and the tiles marked with a mattock discarded.  Next, beginning with the start player, each player takes it in turn to buy a tile from one of the other players.  When everyone has either bought a tile or passed, all remaining tiles are bought for the assigned value by the owner.  So, when setting the value, players have to be very careful not to over-price something otherwise they will be left paying over the odds for something they don’t want.  In fact, the problem is worse than that as the difference between being forced to buy your own tile and selling it is twice the assigned value.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

After all the tiles have been bought, players add them to their clan territories following the Carcassonne riles that terrain must match.  However, presumably since all roads on Skye are just dirt tracks, roads do not need to connect, something those of us who suffer with OCD found quite offensive to begin with.  At the end of the round, points are awarded according to the four scoring tiles chosen at random at the start of the game.  In our game the scoring tiles were:

  1. One point for each animal next to a farm;
  2. Three points for each lake with a ship and a lighthouse;
  3. Two points for each cow on a road connected to the castle;
  4. Five points for the person with the most barrels and two for the person with the next most barrels.
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

At the end of the first round, just scoring tile “A” is scored, at the end of the second, just tile “B”, but at the end of the third, both “C” and “D” are scored so that each tile is scored three times during the game, at the end of different rounds, in different combinations.  At the end of the game, each player turns any residual money into points (at a rate of five to one) and players also score any scroll tiles they may have been able to add to their clan territory.  These give a set number of points for certain items, for example, one point for each pair of ships etc.  These are scored twice it the terrain the scroll is in is “complete”, i.e. it is enclosed.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Punkin312

Burgundy was the only player who had played the game before and commented that he had been given a bit of a pasting so was hoping to do better, though he thought it was a hard game.  It didn’t sound hard at all, but we quickly discovered what he meant, with everyone struggling from the very beginning.  Pine and Magenta made the best starts getting farms and animals and scoring early, while Blue and Burgundy brought up the rear.  Blue, who never does well in more strategic games drew scroll tiles that rewarded players with barrels.  Unfortunately, as barrel tiles connected to the castle give players money at the start of the game, and scoring tile “D” gave points for them, they were a hot commodity and Blue was quickly left behind.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

As he’d found the previous time he’d played, Burgundy could see the tiles he wanted, but was struggling to acquire them or keep them.  As a result he started to drop off the pace and before long, Pine had left Magenta as well and was romping away looking like he might start to lap people.  While everyone else moaned as they struggled to do what they wanted, Pine continued happily collecting lots and lots of cows and sheep which he cleverly added to his growing conurbation of farms so that they counted multiple times.  In the later rounds, however, there is a catch-up mechanism which gives extra money to the players at the back.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

From round three onwards, at the start of the round, each player gets additional money for each player in front of them.  The amount increases as the game progresses, so the player at the back gets an extra three gold coins at the start of round three, but a massive twelve additional gold at the start of the final round.  Unfortunately, we somehow managed to botch this, half-way through the game switching to handing it out at the end of the round instead of the start, so the additional wherewithal didn’t quite give people the extra buying power intended by the designers.  That said, although Pine was the clear winner by nearly thirty points with a total of eighty-five, Blue managed move from a long way behind everyone else into second place thanks to scroll scoring that capitalised on all the brochs and barrels she had acquired.  For all the moaning, everyone enjoyed the game and agreed that it needed playing again as it would probably be very different with different scoring tiles.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

After some discussion about what to play and flirting briefly with the idea of Aquaretto,  we decided to play Port Royal.  Although we’d played it before, it was one of those games that it is somehow hard to remember and therefore Blue made a bit of a pig’s ear of teaching it.  That said, it isn’t a complicated game:  the game is played in turns with the active player turning over cards.  They can keep turning over cards until either they choose to stop or they draw a second ship card that they cannot repel.  Assuming they choose to stop, they can then take a ship card or buy a character card before the remaining cards are offered round the table with players paying the active player one doubloon if they choose to buy/take a card.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

The key is the character cards as they are what enable players to build an engine and get an advantage over the opposition.  Unfortunately for him, Burgundy never seemed to have enough money when the cards he wanted came up.  On the other hand, Magenta took a Jester at just the right moment to give her a steady income exactly when she needed it.  Meanwhile, Blue picked up some good cards, but failed to capitalise and Pine began collecting for contracts, but couldn’t pick up the most cost effective ones.  Then, suddenly, Magenta snuck up on the inside and Pine pointed out that she had eleven points.  Blue then lost the plot a little and let her get the twelfth point which triggered the end of the game.  Nobody could improve their position much, except Magenta who rubbed salt in the wound buying another two cards.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

With the evening nearing the end, we decided to give another new game a quick try as it the box said it only took five to ten minutes.  Well, an hour later, we were still playing Red7, and the landlord was subtly reminding us of the time…  So how did it go so wrong?  Well the game is fairly straight forward:  on their turn, each player can play one card from their hand into their tableau in front of them, or play a card into the centre which changes the rules of the game (a little like Fluxx), or they can do both.  If they cannot play a card or choose not to, they are out of the round.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game is played with a deck of forty-nine cards, numbered one to seven and in seven different colour suits.  Each player starts with seven cards in hand and one face up on the table.  The player with the highest value card is “winning” because the rule at the start is that the highest card wins.  In the event that there is a tie and the highest face value is displayed by more than one player, the tie is broken by the colours with red higher than orange, which is high than yellow and so on through the spectrum to violet.  The colours also dictate the rules, so any red card played in the centre will change the rules to “the highest” wins.  Similarly, any orange card played in the centre changes the rules so that the winner is the person with the most cards of the same number.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

In each case, ties are broken by the card that is highest (taking into account both number and colour) from the cards that satisfy the current rule.  Thus, if the rule is “the most even cards” and there are two players with the same number of even cards in front of them, the player with the highest even card is the winner.  At the end of their turn, the active player must be in a winning position, or they are out of the round. The round continues until there is only one player left.  Magenta took the first round with eight points and Burgundy the next with eleven.  When Magenta took the third and Blue the fourth, Pine was beginning to feel a little left out.  After Burgundy took the fifth round which took him to twenty-seven points (more than twice any one else’s total), we decided to give Pine one last chance as clearly Burgundy had it in the bag.  Sadly, for Pine, the last round was taken by Blue with a massive twenty-two points putting her just three points ahead of Burgundy.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

So why did the game take so much longer than advertised?  Well, obviously we had to read and understand the rules, but that didn’t account for it.  Each round does indeed take about five to ten minutes, but we didn’t feel we had really grasped it after one round and the rules for the advanced game also say that players should continue until one reaches a set number of points.  So we just played another round and then another and another… By the end we were just starting to get the hang of it, but we were also really beginning to appreciate the depth of something so very simple.  Part of the issue is getting into the mindset that enables you to quickly evaluate what cards you can play.  The next level is working out what is the best card to play that keeps the maximum level of options open.  However, by the last round we were just beginning to see that the game was really about using the rules to control what the other players could do, driving the game and ultimately, maximising the number of points won, or minimising the number of points taken by the opposition.  As a game, the structure of this has a lot in common with Love Letter and could another quick filler in a similar vein.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Simple games can turn out to be amongst the most complex.

3rd Movember 2015

Like last time, we started out messing about with the dexterity game, Bellz!.  With Blue, Magenta and Burgundy all familiar with it, it was a very tight game.  As the only person who hadn’t played it before, it took Red a couple of turns to get the hang of it before she developed a devastating new technique and came storming from the back to snaffle first place.  Next time there might be a new house rule…

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor W01FVF

Despite the original prognosis of an hour’s wait for food, the pub kindly rushed us through so while we munched we played a quick game of Turf Horse Racing on a very lumpy course.  It was a while since we last played it, so Green reminded us of the rules.  The idea is very simple, players have three counters to use for betting, two small and one large, double weight one.  In the first stage, players take it in turns to use these counters to bet on horses.  In the second stage, players take it in turns to roll the die and move a horse to determine the outcome of the race.  The game works because the die has three horses heads with one of each of the other icons, and each horse moves a different amount depending on what is rolled.  Since each horse has to move before a horse can be moved again, players can choose to make a positive move for one of their own horses, or nobble someone elses.

Turf Horse Racing
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor franchi

Silver Blaze had a fantastic start so for the next few rounds, but from then on, his progress was slowed by everyone who hadn’t bet on him.  Once the rest of the field had caught him up, the pack stayed together for the rest of the race until Roamin’ Emperor finally broke free with the finishing line in sight.  Then suddenly, Magenta played king-maker giving Red Baron a sudden spurt to win bringing the game to an abrupt finish with Roamin’ Emperor coming in second and Mosstown Boy third, bringing home the rest of the field.  Although Magenta had an investment in Mosstown Boy, Burgundy was the real winner as he had his double bet on the green horse and he finishing ahead of Magenta by several lengths.

Turf Horse Racing
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor franchi

With the arrival of a new player during the game, that gave us six, so we decided to play our the  Halloween-inspired “Feature Game”, Witch’s Brew.  This is a role selection card game with aspects of set collecting and bluffing that has recently been reimplemented as this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres, Broom Service.  Each player begins each round with a deck of twelve character cards from which they choose five.  The start player then selects a card and places it on the table and declares they are that character by saying, for example, “I am the witch”.  The next player examines their hand of five chosen cards, and if they don’t have the same card, they pass.

Witch's Brew
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Play continues until there is a player who is holding the current character card, in which case they then have a choice.  They can object and declare that they are the character instead, saying, for example, “No, I am the Witch”.  In this case, they replace the first player as “the Witch” – the player who is the Witch at the end of the round gets the richest pickings and starts the next round, while everyone else gets nothing.  Alternatively, they can take the “cowardly” option and acquiesce, instead saying “so be it”.  In this case, they immediately take a lesser reward.  Although the decision is a simple binary one, the ramifications are potentially complex and far-reaching, added to which it is a lot of fun to watch player after player declaring their character only to be shouted down by their neighbour.

Witch's Brew
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

The aim of the game is to collect ingredients for potions and then prepare them.  The more complex the potion, the more it is worth at the end of the game.  Thus, players might use the Snake Hunter to collect snake venom and the Herb Collector to provide them with herb juice which can then be used together to brew a potion in a silver cauldron using the Druid.  Players can also pick up points for potion shelves, but the characters used to claim these (the Cut Purse and the Begging Monk), force all the other players to pay a tithe, which will be used to cover the cost.

Witch's Brew
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Nobody had played it before, but Blue, having read the rules, started out well while everyone else was still working out what to do.  Pine was unlucky just failing to get enough gold/ingredients to pick up potion shelves on several occasions.  Burgundy also struggled to make the game work for him, and when he eventually succeeded in brewing his first potion it felt like a real success.  Working steadily, Blue gradually built up an unassailable lead though Green came from nowhere with his last couple of cards, finishing in second, by just a couple of points.

Colt Express
– Image by boardGOATS

The next game up was Colt Express, newly pimped out with fancy gems, purses and a new large start “poppel” from Essen.  The game itself is quite straight forward, but it usually takes at least  round to see how it works.  The idea is that game play is in two phases:  first players take it in turns to chose which cards they are going to play, then players take it in turns to action the cards they chose in the order they chose them.  Although we’ve played Colt Express quite a bit recently, with Pine new to the game, and the chaotic nature of it, it seemed a little unfair to drop him in the deep end and include the expansion as it adds quite a bit more complexity.  So, after admiring the wooden horses and 3D stagecoach, and discussing the DeLorean mini-expansion, we decided to stick with the base game.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor sdetavern

The game started out with bullets flying every where and, unusually, mostly finding their targets.  As the game progressed, even the marshal joined in the fun making Ghost (played by Magenta) a real spook for Halloween.  Burgundy (playing Belle) and Red (Cheyenne) started out well with some valuable pickings.  Magenta, starting to look like a piece of Swiss cheese, was seriously hampered by the nine bullet holes she had picked up, and Pine (Doc) was not far behind with seven, though he was giving as well as taking.  Somehow Green (playing Django) who we normally take care to make sure can’t get ahead in games like this, had largely managed to avoid being shot.  This gave him a significant advantage added to which, everyone else  foolishly left him to play his own game.  Before long he was getting away with the strong box (now upgraded to a gold bar) worth $1,000.  This, with the Sharp Shooter Bonus gave him the win, $750 ahead of Blue in second (playing Tuco) who also picked up the bonus for emptying her magazine.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Magenta and Red were determined that Blue should get an early night to nurse her cold, but she managed to persuade them to one last quick game of one of our current favourites, 6 Nimmt!.  The first round all went according to plan with Burgundy once more picking up more Nimmts than anyone else.  As usual, he did much better in the second round, but couldn’t match Blue and Red who finished in joint first place with a total of just eight each.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Organised chaos is a fun part of lots of different games.

20th October 2015

While Burgundy, Magenta and Blue waited for their supper to arrive, they began a quick game of Bellz!, the “Feature Game”.  This is a very simple manual dexterity game, albeit one that is very well presented.  The pouch opens out to form a soft bowl containing bells in four different colours.  Each colour includes bells in three different sizes; the aim of the game is to be the first person to have picked up all the bells of just one colour using the stick which has a magnet in each end.  On a player’s turn they can pick up multiple bells or chicken out and stop at one, but if they pick up any bells that don’t match the colour of those they have already collected then that turn is forfeit.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

It is certainly more difficult than it looks and there is a little bit in the way of tactics as the magnetism gets weaker further away so with skill it is possible to daisy chain bells and only pick up certain bells.  There is also a strong magnet one one end of the “wand” and a weaker one on the other.  Th rules are not completely clear (and are completely in German in any case!), and gamers inevitably ask whether the bowl can be moved and how much shaking is allowed, which were things we house-ruled.  We had had about two turns each when Green arrived and joined in.  Food arrived and we were still struggling so we carried on as we ate.  Burgundy ran out the eventual winner with Blue following close behind leaving Magenta and Green to fight it out for the last bell.  Grey and Cerise promptly turned up and, as it is an eye-catching game, also had a go with Cerise taking the honours.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This was followed by a discussion of the Essen game fair including some of the games seen and purchased by Blue and Pink.  By far the majority of the toys they picked up were expansions for games we’ve played before including:

Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor sdetavern

There were several new games too though, in particular:

There were also older games, some of which we’ve been interested in for a long time.  For example Rockwell was a big game at Essen two years ago, and Green and Blue have expressed an interest in both at the time and since.  Somehow either the price wasn’t right or it wasn’t available at the right time, until now when a good deal beckoned. Blue and Pink picked up a number of small games as well.  These are often hard to get hold of except at places like Essen and are sometimes a hit, and sometimes not so popular, but as they are relatively inexpensive and take up little space in the luggage, they are what makes the fair special.  Finally, there were the promotional items, extra copies of which Blue handed round.

Rockwell!
– Image by BGG contributor Rayreviewsgames

Eventually we decided it was time for a game, and with six the decision is always whether to split into two groups or not.  Green suggested Eketorp for six, but Blue really wasn’t keen, so eventually we opted for Codenames, a new social deduction team game based on the meanings of words which had received a lot of good reports before Essen.  Green pulled a face at the idea of “a word game” and Burgundy commented that social games were not really his thing, even Blue who bought it wasn’t terribly keen because it had sounded un-promising when she read the rules.  Cerise was almost enthusiastic though and Magenta pointed out that it shouldn’t take long, so we gave it a go.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The idea is that there is a grid of twelve cards and the players split into two teams, with even numbers of male and female, we did the childish thing and played boys vs. girls.  The leader of each team is the Spymaster, and as Grey had popped out for a second, we volunteered him to be one so it was natural that Cerise should be the other.  The Spymasters’ job is to get their team to reveal the cards/words that correspond to their team of “agents”, by giving clues.  The clue must be a single word followed by a number which reflects how many words are indicated by that clue.  For example, the clue, “trees: three” could be used to indicate the words “oak”, “ash” and “elm”.  Members of the team then touch cards that they think are their agents; they must indicate at least one, but may try up to one more than the number in the clue.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor aleacarv

The Girls started off badly finding a neutral and the Boys started off well quickly getting a three card lead.  Before long, the Boys started to get a bit stuck with movie clues and the Girls began to catch up.  As Magenta pointed out afterwards, it was important to listen to both the clues and the discussion of the other team as you can get extra clues.  And so it proved in the end.  With the teams tied, the clue was “Regents; two”.  Blue and Magenta misheard and thought Cerise had said “Regions”.  The Boys struggled on their turn too though, and suddenly the Girls had another chance.  When Green had repeated Cerise’s clue during the Boys’ discussion, Blue had suddenly realised the Girls’ mistake and they were able to find “Park” and close out the game.  Although it is not really our sort of game, everyone was very complimentary about it and as a group we enjoyed it much more than we thought we would.  We could all think of people who would like playing it and now that we know how it works, it would be much quicker to play next time too, making it a surprisingly fun filler with the right group.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With that done, we had to decide what to to play next and, with too many for Cosmic Encounter, inevitably Eketorp was raised again.  Grey was very enthusiastic, but Blue really wasn’t keen, especially as it can drag with six players.  Much to Blue’s delight and eternal gratitude, Magenta tactfully suggested that, despite being a Viking, she could play something else with Blue and Burgundy.  With that, Green happily started explaining the rules.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Ceryon

Eketorp is a game where players attempt to gather resources to build their Viking stronghold on the Swedish island of Öland.  In this game players try to second guess which resources the others don’t choose, with a battle and a potential extended stay in the hospital as the reward for failure.  The game itself is played in several rounds.  First material is distributed across the board according to the card revealed at the start of the round.  The players then decide, in secret (behind their player screens), which areas to send their Vikings to.  Vikings can either go to one of the seven resource or brick areas, reinforce the defence of their own village, or attack one of the other players’ villages.   Players then reveal their choices  and place their Vikings on the central board.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

Depending on how the various Vikings meet, peace may be preserved or battles may ensue.  Vikings on a material field live in peace if there are sufficient building bricks, i.e. there is the same number of building bricks (or more) than there are Vikings wanting them.  If there are insufficient bricks available, then there will be a battle.  Battles also take place on a siege field in front of a player’s castle for the right to lay siege if several Vikings are positioned there.  Battles always take place in a particular order. Firstly, the starting player engages in a battle, then everyone else takes turns until all battles and sieges have been resolved.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor helioa

Battles are fought using cards chosen from a starting hand of four.  Each player choses a card in secret and then they reveal them simultaneously with the highest card winning.  The difference in value between the two cards determines the battle difference which indicates which area of the hospital the loser ends up in.  In the case of a tie, both parties go to the hospital.  The clever bit is that once a battle has been fought, players swap cards and place the new card face down in front of them.  Once a player has played all their cards in battles, they take the cards in front of them to form a new hand.  In this way, the game is self-balancing so that a player who has a bad card draw at the start will have a better hand later in the game and vice versa.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

If village siege is successful, then the attacker gets to pillage bricks from the village wall.  Bricks may only be taken from the walls that are two bricks high and the  total point value of the bricks taken may not exceed the battle difference.  Bricks can only be removed from top to bottom and the attacker can then take one of these bricks home (with the remainder going back into the reserve).  Once all battles have been resolved all the winning Vikings can take their bricks home and add them to their village wall.  Each wall comes in six parts and a maximum of three bricks can be stacked in each giving a maximum of eighteen in total.  Once a brick has been used, it cannot be moved at a later date.  The bricks are nominally made of different material and are worth different amounts at the end of the game (green, or grass is worth one whereas grey or stone is worth four for example).  The end of the game is triggered when one player reaches the maximum of eighteen bricks.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

At the start, with no village walls to attack or defend, and all Vikings fit and healthy, the central resource pools were particularly busy places.  After many attacks and counter attacks, eventually all were either victorious and claimed resources, or were licking their wounds in differing levels of the Viking hospital (talk about a beds crisis!).  Green took the early lead at this point. Round two was much quieter, with less than half the Vikings available to go brick hunting, so everyone was relatively successful with their choices.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor DrGrayrock

Over the course of the next couple of rounds, the game board became more crowded and there was even the odd cheeky raid on a village.  By this time, Grey had managed to create a nice evenly built village wall, one or two bricks high made up of both grass and wooden bricks (worth one and two points respectively) – easy pickings in a fight, but less threatening too. Green was a bit lopsided, concentrating on building with a range of brick colours mostly on one side in order to limit the attack directions.  Cerise however had quietly managed to built quite a good wall round a large part of her village with a lot of clay and stone bricks (worth three and four points).  So, the next two rounds were characterised mostly by Grey and Green attacking for Cerise’s wall.  The first attack by Green was successful, but only enough to nab the top green brick, hardly a dent at all and netted only one point.  Grey’s attack was a stalemate.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Garry

In the final round, Cerise found herself surrounded on all sides with Green and Grey attacked from one side each.  Again only Grey was successful enough to break down part of the wall though.  Then for the final battle of the game, Grey and Green had to go head to head for the right to attack Cerise from the third side – it was a draw and Cerise was safe!  As Cerise was the only one who had managed to build a wall at least three high all the way round she picked up the five point bonus and proved herself the superior Viking with a score of forty-four leaving Green and Grey some way behind, fighting it out for the wooden spoon.  In the end, Grey decided he didn’t like the game after all, because had Cerise beat him!

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

Meanwhile Blue, Burgundy and Magenta conducted a brief audit of the games available and Burgundy’s eyes lit up at the idea of trying out the new Ticket to Ride Map Collection as he had played a lot of Ticket to Ride and prided himself on being quite good at it.  Magenta is also no slouch either however, and was also keen as she had won her last three games of Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Similarly, Blue has slightly unjustly acquired a reputation for beating people at Ticket to Ride, and although she hadn’t played it much recently, she had won her demonstration game at Essen and had enjoyed it too, so was very happy to give it another try.  Although everyone was keen to try the UK map, to avoid giving Blue an unfair advantage, the Pennsylvania side was chosen.

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic Ticket to Ride game is really very simple.  On their turn the active player can do one of three things:  pick up two coloured train cards from the face up display or the face down draw deck; place plastic trains on the map using cards to pay and scoring points; or draw ticket cards, which name two places and give points at the end of the game if the player has built a route between them, but score negatively if not completed.  From there, each different version makes small changes to the rules, for example, some editions include tunnels and/or ferries and sometimes there are extra cards or bonus points etc..  So, the first problem was trying to remember which of the specific rules are applicable to the base game and then integrate them with the new rules for the Pennsylvania map.  In particular, this was whether we should be using the double routes and how many points the different routes should be worth since there was no score table.  Eventually, we decided to use single tracks (ala three player Ticket to Ride: Europe) and scored routes as follows:

  • Single car:  One point
  • Two cars:  Two points
  • Three cars:  Four points
  • Four cars:  Seven points
  • Five cars:  Ten points
  • Six cars:  Fifteen points
  • Seven cars:  Twenty-one points

The seven car route from Cumberland to Baltimore engendered a lot of discussion, as there aren’t any routes of that length in Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Burgundy was fairly sure they were worth eighteen points in Märklin, but the increase in points from six to seven cars seemed very uneven compared with the change from five to six cars.  In the event, it didn’t make much difference, but checking the rules online later confirmed that Burgundy was right and it should have been eighteen.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was quite pleased with his starting tickets getting three east-west routes that he thought could largely be coincidental.  His delight faded to despair, when in the first turn, Blue took the route from Altoona to Johnstown and quickly followed it by adding the Altoona to Dubois, in quickly completely scuppering his plans.  Magenta was equally unimpressed that double routes were not in use when Burgundy and Blue quickly completed all the connections to Johnstown rendering one of her tickets impossible within the first few turns.  From there, the game quickly descended into a knife-fight in a phone box with everyone scrabbling to make their starting tickets and it looking very much like nobody was going to succeed.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

As Burgundy pointed out though, tickets were not going to be so important in this game as there were a lot of points available from the Shares.  This is a new feature specific to this map.  The idea of these is that most routes also have one or more company logos shown next to them on the map.  When these routes are completed, players choose which company they would like to take a share certificate for.  The companies are different sizes with some companies having a lot of certificates available while smaller company others have fewer.  At the end of the game, each player’s stock holdings are evaluated and points awarded.  The bigger companies are worth more points, however, it is harder to get the majority stake in these.  In the case of a tie, the share certificates are numbered and the points go to the person with the one taken first.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

The shares certainly did have a massive impact on game play.  Normally in Ticket to Ride, players achieve their first routes and then start picking up tickets, trying to maximise the number of longer routes as these give the best points return for the cards and trains, but, that wasn’t how this game went.  Although Blue bravely picked up some more tickets and was promptly followed by everyone else, this was the only time anyone did this as everyone got in everyone else’s way so much it was just too risky.  Since achieving tickets was proving so challenging, everyone started trying to pick up share certificates which meant building small routes as these were the cheapest and easiest way to get them.  Then suddenly, Burgundy declared he was out of trains and the game came to a quick end which only left the scoring.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Burgundy had moaned about how badly he had done, neither Magenta nor Blue realised just how badly until it came to scoring tickets.  It’s true that the first ticket scored him ten points, but all the others were incomplete losing him nearly all the points he had accrued from placing trains.  Magenta also had a ticket she had failed to achieve, but it hadn’t cost her nearly so dearly.  Blue on the other hand had somehow managed to make all her connections and therefore also picked up an extra fifteen points for the Globe Trotter Bonus.  Unfortunately for Burgundy, although he had done well on the shares, the horror-show that had been the tickets had put him right out of contention and he was nearly lapped (though not quite!).  Although Magenta had shares in more companies, the combination of the extra tickets and the fact that Blue had managed to hang on to the majority in a couple of the larger companies made the difference.  Blue finished on one hundred and ninety eight, just over thirty points ahead of Magenta in what was a very tough game.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

With Grey and Cerise gone, that left us with time for a quick filler to finish.  11 Nimmt! and Deep Sea Adventure were both in the frame, but Green liked the sound of Qwixx, which had been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2013, but was beaten by Hanabi.  The game sounded interesting though there was very little to it.  On their turn, the active player rolls six dice, four coloured and two white.  Each player has a score sheet with four tracks:  the red and yellow tracks go from two to twelve and the blue and green tracks go from twelve to two.  Once the dice have been rolled, all the players may cross off a number of any colour that corresponds to the sum of the white dice, if they choose.  The active player may additionally cross off one number corresponding to the sum of one of the coloured dice and one of the white dice.  They can choose which of the white dice they are going to use, but the die colour must match the colour of the track.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

The snag is that players must progressively cross off numbers to the right, i.e. once they have crossed out the red five for example, they cannot go back and cross out the red four.  Also, while all the other players can freely choose whether or not to use the white dice, the active player must cross out something on their turn or take a penalty (minus five at the end of the game).  Finally, if someone wants to cross out the last number on any track (twelve for red and yellow, two for green and blue), they must first have crossed out at least five other numbers on that track, at which point the die corresponding to that colour is locked and the colour is closed for all players.  The game ends when two dice have been removed from the game or when one player has accrued four penalties.  Scores are awarded for the number of crosses in each row according to the triangular number sequence also used in Coloretto (one, three, six, ten, fifteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight, etc.), so every additional cross is worth an ever increasing amount.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game started with everyone being very cagey and not taking the option of scoring the white dice as they were too high, but eventually, some people were braver than others and different patterns began to emerge.  Initially, the game looked very promising with the potential interplay between different effects, like the probability distribution for two dice, balancing the high scoring potential with not getting stuck and picking up penalty points.  Blue was even wondering whether it would be necessary to get another scoring pad.  However, being gamers, we all played to a very similar strategy and, before long, the inevitable happened, with everyone stuck waiting for the most unlikely dice rolls (two and twelve).  As a result, Burgundy who got there first started picking up penalties closely followed by Green.  The game ended when Burgundy picked up his fourth penalty point and we added up the scores.  Magenta, who had only taken the one penalty finished five points ahead of Blue with Burgundy and Green nearly twenty points behind thanks to all their penalties.  And then the inquisition began.

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

We all really like the game at first because of the way the probability interacted with the constraints on number selection, however, we quickly found that it felt very random because the game was self-balancing.  As their game finished, each player was going to be hoping for lucky dice rolls.  Since twelve and two are relatively unlikely which would have a delaying effect, during which time, anyone who had not got quite as far was going to be able to grab a couple of extra crosses.  The random nature of rolling dice meant that ultimately, the effect of any strategy or tactics applied during the game were vastly outweighed by the randomness of the dice at the end.  Although we felt it was probably a good game for children to have fun with, as a game, it was very surprising it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is good to play games outside your comfort zone.