Tag Archives: Between Two Cities

4th April 2017

As we we arrived, we were all a little thrown by the fact that we weren’t on our usual table.  We coped though (just about) and, while we waited for our food, inspired by Red’s “smiley sushi” top, we felt there was only one suitable game, Sushi Go!. This is one of the simplest, “purest” card-drafting games.  Card drafting is a mechanism that is the basis of a number of well-known and popular games including 7 Wonders and one of our favourites, Between Two Cities.  It is also a useful mechanism for evening out the vagaries of dealing in other games.  For example, a round of drafting is often added to the start of Agricola to ensure that nobody gets a particularly poor hand.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Basically, each player starts with a hand of cards, chooses one to keep and passes the rest onto their neighbour.  Everyone receives a new hand of cards, and again chooses one and passes the rest on.  This continues with the hands getting progressively smaller until all the cards have been chosen and there are no cards to pass on.  In Sushi Go!, players are collecting sets of cards with the different sets scoring points in different ways, for example, a player who collects a pair of Tempura Prawns gets five points at the end of the game.  In the first round Blue and Burgundy went for Sashimi – collecting three gives ten points; unfortunately there were only four in the round and both got two which failed to score.  We were playing with the Soy Sauce expansion, and Burgundy made up for his lack of Sashimi by taking the Soy bonus,  it was Pine who made a killing though taking the first round with a massive twenty-two points.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The second round was very confused pizza arriving and hands losing cards somehow.  Blue won the round with seventeen, but it was a much closer affair which left Pine in the driving seat going into the last round.  As they only score points at the end of the game and since the player with the fewest losing six points, everyone went for Puddings.  There were a lot in the round and Red managed to collect most of them, and the end of the game six point bonus with it.  It was a sizeable catch and with Pine in line for the penalty, it looked like Red might just have enough to snatch victory.  In the end, Pine shared the penalty with Burgundy, however, and that was just enough to give him the game, finishing three points ahead of Red.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

With food finished and our usual table now empty, we split into two groups with the first foursome moving back to our normal table to play the “Feature Game”, Viticulture.  This is a worker placement game where players take on the roles of beneficiaries in rustic, pre-modern Tuscany who have inherited meager vineyards. Each player starts with a few plots of land, an old crushpad, a tiny cellar, and three workers.  Using those workers and visitors, players can expand their vineyards by building structures, planting vines, and filling wine orders.  At first glance, Viticulture appears very complicated with lots of possible actions, but in practice it is a much simpler game than it looks.  Viticulture is broken down into years or rounds with each subdivided into seasons, each with a specific purpose.  In the first round, Spring, players choose the turn order for the rest of the year.  The start player picks first and can choose to go first and pick up a meager reward, or sacrifice position in the turn order for something more enticing, in the extreme case, going last and getting an extra worker.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Then, in the turn order decided in Spring, players take it in turn to choose an action and place a worker.  All the action takes place in Summer and Winter and it is up to the players how they divide their workers between the two.  Each action has three spaces, but only two are in use in the four player game.  The first player to take an action gets an additional bonus while the second allows the basic level action only.  Each player has a large worker, their “Grande”, which they can  use as a normal worker, or to carry out any action, even if both spaces are already occupied.  In Summer, players can add buildings to their estate; plant vines; show tourists round (to get money); collect vine cards, or play yellow Summer Visitor cards (which generally give a special action).  In contrast, in Winter, players can harvest grapes from their vines; make wine; collect wine contract cards; fulfill contracts (which is the main way to get points), or play blue Winter Visitor cards.  Sandwiched between Summer and Winter, is Autumn, where players get to take an extra Visitor card.  Game end is triggered when one player gets to twenty points.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We were very slow to start as only Ivory was familiar with the game.  Pine in particular felt out of his depth and moaned about how this was not his sort of game.  Despite this, Pine was the first to get points on the board and he retained his lead for more than half the game thanks to the Windmill that he built at the start.  This gave a him a point each time he planted vines and, since that is an essential part of the game he was collecting points from the start where everyone else was concentrating on trying to build up the framework of their vineyard.  As the game progressed, everyone else’s grapes began to mature yielding points and the chase began.  We were into the final quarter of the game before Blue, then Ivory and eventually Green caught Pine though.  Going into the final round it was clear it was going to be close as Ivory moved ahead of Green, Blue and Pine, and triggered the end game.  Blue just managed to keep up and it finished in a tie, with both Ivory and Blue on twenty-four, four points clear of Green.  Money is the tie breaker followed by left over wine, and since Blue had more of both she claimed the victory.

Viticulture
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, at the other side of the room, Red, Purple, Black and Burgundy, had been playing Ulm.  This is a game Purple and Black picked up from Essen last year and has had a couple of outings since.  The game play in Ulm is simple enough.  It is played over ten rounds, during each of which players get one turn in which they can do three actions that help them to gain points.  Ultimately players are collecting cards, city coats of arms and descendants, all of which can give them points during the game or at the end. This, in combination with the position of their barge and the number of sparrow tokens owned give the end game score, and the player with highest score wins.  The novel part of the game is the Cathedral – a three by three grid of action tiles.  On their turn, the active player slides a new action tile, randomly drawn from the bag, from the outside into the grid sliding another tile out. That tile stays in its spot on the outside of the grid and no other player can use that row or column until the tile is removed. The three tiles left in that row or column (two old ones and the new one, just added), represent the active player’s three actions for their turn.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

The game play in Ulm is simple enough.  It is played over ten rounds, during each of which players get one turn in which they can do three actions that help them to gain points.  Ultimately players are collecting cards, city coats of arms and descendants, all of which can give them points during the game or at the end. This, in combination with the position of their barge and the number of sparrow tokens owned give the end game score, and the player with highest score wins.  The cathedral area is a three by three grid of action tiles.  On their turn, the active player slides a new action tile, randomly drawn from the bag, from the outside into the grid sliding another tile out. That tile stays in its spot on the outside of the grid and no other player can use that row or column until the tile is removed. The three tiles left in that row or column (two old ones and the new one, just added), represent the active player’s three actions for their turn.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, players get one random action (drawn from the bag) and choose the other two.  There are five different actions represented by tiles in different colours.  These are:  clear tiles on one of the four sides of the cathedral area (making more options playable), place a Seal, buy or play a card, move the player’s barge, or take money.  Points are scored during the game through Seals and Coats of Arms, and at the end of the game for any sparrows and for the position of their barge on the Danube.  The largest source of points though is through cards.  These can be acquired by exchanging tiles for cards or as a byproduct of buying Seals.  When played, the active player can either discard the card for the card bonus which they can use during the game, or place the card in front of them, to obtain the points bonus at the end of the game.  A set of three different trade cards gets a bonus of three points while three the same gives a six point bonus.  Cathedral cards are the most profitable, however, with a complete set of three cathedral cards netting a massive eighteen points, but they can be correspondingly difficult to get.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Red and Burgundy were new to the game so there were some blank faces during the explanation and they were totally over-awed by the two epic rules books.  It wasn’t helped by the cluttered nature of the board, though everyone agreed that the Cathedral action grid movement is very clever.  The downside of it though is that it regularly locks up leaving difficult choices, especially for Red who seemed to come off worst.  Black commented that it was very busy with four and that meant the game was very different to the two-player experience.  Purple moved furthest at first and picked up some early shields to give her a good start.  Despite her difficulties with the action grid, Red also picked up quite a lot of shields and generated a huge number of sparrows gave her lots of bonuses and the lead during the game.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy is well known in the group for sighing and moaning about how badly the game is going, shortly before pulling a master stroke that gives him a massive number of points and usually, an unassailable lead.  This game was no exception as he produced a massive eighteen points halfway through by trading lots of goods.  As he pointed out later, however, it didn’t stop him from coming last this time though.  In the event, it was quite close between first and second.  Black who made his fortune as an art collector and scored the most from the his River position, demonstrated the value of experience, just pushing Red into second place.  Finishing first, the group enjoyed a long postmortem and chit-chat, before the goings on with Viticulture piqued their interest and they wandered over to spectate and enjoy the drama of the final round.

Ulm
– Image by boardGOATS

With an early start the next day, Black, Purple, Ivory and Green then headed off, leaving Blue, Red and Pine to have yet another go at wresting Burgundy’s “Splendor Crown” from him.  Splendor is a really simple engine-building game that we’ve played a lot of late.  The idea is that players collect chips and use them to buy cards.  These cards can, in turn, be used to buy other cards and allow players to earn Nobles and victory points.  People often claim the game is trivial and highly luck dependent, but there has to be more to it otherwise Burgundy would not be as seemingly unbeatable as he is.  This time, there were relatively few ruby cards available in the early part of the game, and Red took those that were available.  Similarly, Blue took all the emerald cards she could as these were needed for the Nobles.  Given the lack of other cards, Burgundy just built his business on onyx and diamonds instead.  The paucity of other cards slowed his progress and prevented Burgundy from taking any Nobles.  It didn’t stop him taking yet another game though, finishing on fifteen, four ahead of Blue with eleven.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Board layout is very important – it can make an easy game appear complex or a difficult game seem straightforward.

24th January 2017

Food was a little delayed, so as it was a relatively quick game (and one that we felt we could play while eating if necessary), we decided to begin with the “Feature Game”, Bohemian Villages.  This is a fairly simple tactical dice-rolling game.  The idea is that on their turn, the active player rolls four dice and uses them to assign their meeples to buildings in the villages of Bohemia.  The dice can be used as two sets of two, a group of three (with one forfeit) or in their entirety as a group of four.  These values correspond to the different types of buildings which appear with different frequency and give different rewards.  For example, if a player rolls a six, they can place their meeple on a Flour Mill.  When the last of the Flour Mills is occupied, everyone gets their meeples back, together with two coins for each one.  Similarly, rolling a seven allows the active player to place their meeple on a Glass Factory, however, when they get them back they get three coins instead of two.

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

Other buildings work differently though, for example rolling a two, three, four or five allows players to put their meeple on a Shop.  There are four different types of Shops and players are rewarded increasingly large amounts of money for the more different Shops they occupy at the end of the game.  A set of four is very valuable, but the snag is that the number of Shops available is very small.  So, once they are all occupied, if another player rolls the right number they can bump someone else off costing them a lot of money in the process.  Players rolling a twelve, place their meeples on Manor Houses which give an immediate reward whereas inns (nine) give a regular income at the start of the active players turn, so long as they remember to claim it!  Farms also provide income during the game with the active player collecting one coin for each farm owned when they add a new one (i.e. roll another eight).  Churches and Town Halls (ten and eleven) provide money at the end of the game with players rewarded for occupying the most Churches or for occupying a Town Hall in a fully occupied village.

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends when a player runs out of meeples and the winner is the player with the most money.  We were just about to start a five-player game when Green and Ivory pitched up, so Red joined them, leaving Blue, Pine, Magenta and Burgundy to start.  With food arriving just as we started, Blue began by claiming the most lucrative Manor House with all four of her dice before turning her attention to her pizza.  Magenta started collecting Shops, but soon faced competition from Pine.  Meanwhile, Burgundy was sidetracked by his supper, Blue tried to get a regular income stream from a chain of Inns and Pine went into the church.  Somewhere along the line during her rules explanation, Blue had commented that Farms could be quite lucrative, so Magenta took the hint and before long she was engaged in a massive land-grab.  It took everyone else a while to notice, so it was very late before they attempted to reduce her income.   In what was a very close game it just played into Pine’s hands and he finished two coins ahead of Magenta when Burgundy brought the game to a slightly unexpected end.

Bohemian Villages
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, the absence of Burgundy meant that Red, Ivory and Green fancied their chances at a game of Splendor.  This engine building game is built on a simple set-collection mechanism.  Players collect gem tokens then use them to buy gem cards.  Gem cards can then be used to buy more cards.  Some gem cards are also worth points, and they also enable players to collect Nobles which are awarded to the first player collect certain combinations of gem cards.  Splendor is one of our group’s “go-to” light filler games and in recent months Burgundy has made the game his own.  With Burgundy otherwise engaged though, he was guaranteed not to win.  With Ivory and Red fighting for the same colours, Green made the fastest progress collecting opals and diamonds and building a valuable collection quickly.  Ivory came off best in the tussle between him and Red, and he was able to pick up two Nobles with his pickings.  It was Green that took the honours, however, taking a Noble himself to bring the game to a close.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Bohemian Villages finished first, so after a trip to the bar, Blue, Magenta, Burgundy and Pine played a few hands of Love Letter to kill time.  We play this quite a bit, because with just sixteen cards, this is a great little game to play while chatting or doing other things (like eating).  Each player starts with a card and, on on their turn, draws a second and chooses one of them to play.  Each card has a number (one to eight) and an action; players use the actions to try to eliminated each other and the player with the highest card at the end, or the last player remaining is the winner.  This time, we managed five hands before Splendor finished and it ended in a tie between Blue and Magenta who won two each.  With nobody wanting a late night we fancied something we could play as a group that wasn’t going to run on.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

After a bit of a discussion, we settled on a big game of Between Two Cities, involving everyone.  This is quite popular with our group as it is both competitive, and cooperative and, as such, is totally different to anything else we play.  The idea is that, instead of each player having a personal player board that they work on in isolation, each player sits between two boards which they share with their neighbours.  The game play is based on card drafting games like Sushi Go! and 7 Wonders with scoring taking elements from tile-laying games like Carcassonne and Alhambra.  The game is played over three rounds with players placing building tiles to construct cities consisting of sixteen tiles in a four by four array.  Each player starts the first round with six tiles, of which they secretly choose two and pass the rest to the left.  Once everyone has chosen their two, everyone reveals their choices and then negotiates with their neighbours to try to to ensure they get the tiles they want in the two cities they have a share in.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

Play continues with each player picking up the hand they were passed and choosing another pair of tiles etc. until there are no tiles left.  In the second round players get three double tiles of which they choose two and discard the third.  These double tiles contain two buildings in a vertical or horizontal arrangement.  This is where things can get difficult, as the final city must form a four by four square and the location of buildings can be critical to their scoring.  For example, a housing estate built in a city with lots of other different types of buildings is worth up to five points at the end of the game, unless it is next to a factory in which case it is only worth one point.  The third and final round is played the same way as the first, except that tiles are passed in the opposite direction.  The winner is the player with the highest scoring second city.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

As well as being a nice balance of cooperative and competitive, it also plays well at a wide range of player counts with little change to the overall game time.  With so many people involved, however, one of the down-sides is the fact that it is very difficult to see what players at the other end of the table are doing and near-impossible to influence their game-play.  Despite this, for the most part every city had it’s own distinct character, for example, Red and Magenta reproduced central London with offices surrounded by lots of pubs and entertainment venues while Blue and Burgundy built a flourishing industrial town and Pine and Ivory managed their own little recreation of Thatcher’s Britain.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

In Between Two Cities, the winner is the player who’s lowest scoring city is the scores most, with their other city used as a tie-breaker.  For this reason, it is usual that the player who finishes with two most closely matched cities that wins.  By rights then, the game should have gone to Green or Red who both finished with both their cities scoring exactly fifty-four points.  This was an unusually close game though, with all cities except one finishing within four points of each other.  In the end, Blue who took second place from Burgundy on the tie-break, but it was Pine, sharing cities with Burgundy and Ivory who finished two points clear giving him his second victory of the night.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

With that, Red, Magenta, Ivory and Green headed off for an early night, but Blue, Burgundy and Pine felt it wasn’t yet late and that there was time for something light before bed.  Since Splendor was still out Pine and Blue decided to have another go at Burgundy and see if together, they could finally dethrone him.  It all started well with Pine and Blue successfully inconveniencing Burgundy grabbing gem cards he wanted just before he could get them.  It wasn’t long, however, before Burgundy managed to collect a large number of diamonds which allowed him to just beat Blue to a couple of nobles.  She was still in the fight though, right until she miscounted how many sapphires Burgundy had, and with it handed him the game. Still, we are definitely getting closer to beating him…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning outcome:  Competition is essential in games, but working together is fun too.

18th October 2016

Magenta arrived first, and after a short delay while she fiddled with her phone she was joined by Blue (armed with lots of “Mammy Sheep” for Red and a pile of other bits from Essen for everyone else). Burgundy, Pine, Red and Cerise followed together with food.  We were nearly done when Black and purple turned up and ordered their food, so while we were waiting we started a pair of parallel games of the “Feature Game”, The Game: Extreme.  We’ve played the original version, The Game, quite a lot, so were keen to see what this added.  The Game is very simple:  as a group, players must try to to play every card from the deck (numbered two to ninety-nine) onto four piles.  On their turn, the active player must play two cards from their hand on any of the four piles:  for two of the card must be of higher value than the current top card, while for the other two it must must be of lower value.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can discuss anything they like so long as nobody discloses any specific number information and they can play as many cards as they like on their turn so long as they play at least two (until the deck has been depleted, after which they must play one).  To help eveyone out, there is also the so called “Backwards Rule” which allows players to push a pile back so long as the difference between the card they are playing and the card they are covering is exactly ten.  Once the active player has played their cards, they replenish the missing cards.  The game ends when all cards have been played or the active player is unable to play a card.  The game is often compared with Hanabi, as it is a cooperative card game, but for Hanabi to work really well it needs to be played in total silence and with poker faces – anything less and clues are given away unintentionally and the level of “cheating” becomes arguable, but playing like this is very stressful.  In contrast, we find that The Game is much more relaxed and “fun”, which is why we like it.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

The Game: Extreme differs from the original in that the cards have a different colour scheme and twenty-eight of them are marked with special “command”.  There are seven different commands, three that take effect immediately and only directly affect the active player, and four that continue to affect every player on their turn until they are covered by another card.  These commands are all nasty and vary from “play three cards” to “pick up only one card”, or “no talking”.  It was very quickly apparent that the commands make The Game: Extreme much more difficult than The Game.  What was less obvious was that it becomes much more stressful and, as a result, less fun.  After both groups had endured two terrible rounds getting barely half way through the deck, Magenta, Blue and Burgundy came to the conclusion that a large part of the problem was that it felt like the game was playing the players rather than the players playing the game.  Blue commented that it hadn’t felt like that with two players when , so maybe an extra card each would help?  So Magenta, Blue and Burgundy gave it another try with seven cards apiece.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, it was much better – everyone felt like they had meaningful choices instead of no choice, but it was still difficult.  Clearly with the extra cards The Game was much easier, but still not trivial and the group finished with a creditable three cards remaining.  Meanwhile, Pine, Red and Cerise had got bored with dispiriting losses and had moved onto Port Royal Unterwegs.  This is supposed to be the travel edition of Port Royal, though how it is the travel edition, Heaven only knows as the box is the same size as the full version, which itself is big enough to include the expansion as well!  Perhaps it is in reference to the number of cards, which is considerably less than half the number in the full game and, as a result it plays a maximum of four rather than the five in the original.  The cards are different and the rules slightly more succinct too, which make the game play a little more streamlined.

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

Port Royal is a very simple game:  on their turn the active player turns over the top card of the deck and either takes the card if it is a Ship that they want; repels the Ship if they don’t want it and have sufficient cutlass cards to do so; buys the card if it is a Character card that they want and can afford, or places it face up in the display in front of the draw-deck and draws another card.  They continue to do this until they have bought/taken a card, or a Ship is drawn that is the same colour as a ship already in the display and cannot be repelled, in which case, they go bust.  The game uses the same dual use cards trick as Bohnanza where the cards have one meaning when face up and are coins when face down.  In general, each Character card has a special power, but is also worth victory points at the end of the game.  Port Royal Unterwegs is very similar except the characters are generally less complex and the game ends when someone gets to eight points instead of the usual twelve.

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

These changes make Port Royal Unterwegs quite a bit quicker than its parent, but it helps a lot if players have an idea of what they are trying to do and what chances they need to take as there isn’t time for them to come round again.  It turned out that of the group of players only Pine had actually played it before and he had scant recollection of it.  Blue did her best to remind him from the next table, but as there were slight changes to the rules and she didn’t want to let the side down in The Game: Extreme, she couldn’t give them the help they really needed.  After the event, Blue asked Pine what happened and he replied, “Just record it as three people who didn’t know what they were doing…”  Red was similarly vague and aside from the fact that Cerise won and Pine came second, everyone seemed very keen to forget the whole experience.  Maybe one to try again sometime.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of
nonsensicalgamers.com

While all this was going on, Black and Purple on the next table were struggling with one of their Essen acquisitions, Best Treehouse Ever.  This is a card drafting game where players spend three weeks (rounds) building themselves a tree-house.  Similar to games like Between Two Cities, 7 Wonders and Sushi Go!, players start with a hand of cards (in this case six) and then everyone simultaneously chooses one room card and places it face down in front of them before passing the rest of the cards on to their neighbour.  Once everyone has passed their cards on, everyone simultaneously adds their room to their tree-house.  There are very few building restrictions, but it is these that make the game interesting.  For example, tree-houses must be no more than six levels high and each room must be supported by two branches from the room below (except on the outside).  The first room of any colour may be placed anywhere, but those that follow must touch a room of the same colour.  If at any point a room card cannot be placed, it must be discarded, reducing the final magnitude of the tree-house and ultimately the number of points it can score.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

The really clever bit is the “Balance Marker” – a wooden cube at the bottom of the tree.  Everyone knowns that when building a tree-house it must be balanced if it is not to collapse.  So, rooms cannot be built on the same side of the tree as the balance marker, which shifts throughout the game based on the players room placement.  Thus, the building restrictions require constant awareness of the position of rooms in a players tree as well as those in the trees of the opposition.  While the ability to start a new set of coloured rooms gives flexibility, players must be cautious not to cut off existing colours too early.  Once all cards have been played or discarded, the round is concluded by a scoring session where players choose one of the four game changer cards, which either multiply the score of one room colour or completely prevent a room colour from scoring.  After three complete rounds there is a final scoring round where players with the majority of one or more room colours at the end of the game will score an additional point per room of that colour.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

With just two players, the scoring s simplified – the multipliers are removed and players have one “this room doesn’t score” card each instead.  As ties don’t score at all in the final round, these become quite critical in a head-to-head game.  This time, both players had level five treehouses, though this was probably largely because it was the first time Black and Purple had played the game and they played too many rounds.  In the final scoring, Purple dominated the red and brown rooms while Black had the majority in yellow and purple rooms.  It was very tight, but Purple took the game by a single point.  Best Treehouse Ever was a game that Black and Blue had discussed getting.  Sadly, it was clear that Black was disappointed that it wasn’t at its best played with two, however, it will doubtless get another outing in the near future with more of us involved.

Best Treehouse Ever
– Image used with permission of nonsensicalgamers.com

With Black and Blue suffering from “German lurgy” and Burgundy still recovering from his last bout, everyone was keen for an early night.  Once Red, Cerise & Magenta had headed off, everyone else settled down to go through the rules of Kerala, a simple little tile laying game with beautiful presentation, while Purple multi-tasked and wrote an essay about her favourite tree-house. In Kerala, each player starts with a single tile in their own colour with two wooden elephants perched precariously on it.  On their turn, the active player draws the same number of tiles from the bag as there are players and then chooses one before everyone else takes it in turns choosing one.  Players then simultaneously place their tiles next to a tile with an elephant on it and move the elephant onto the new tile.  The tile can be placed in an empty space, or on top of a tile previously laid.  Thus, over the course of the game players’ elephants ponderously move over their play-area with players messing with the player to their left by leaving them with tiles they don’t want.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

Tiles come in the five different player colours:  red, green, blue, black and purple.  At the end of the game players require precisely one contiguous region of each colour (with two allowed for their own colour); if they are missing a colour they lose five points and if any regions appear more than once, tiles must be removed with a penalty of two points per tile.  There are three types of tiles, Elephant tiles, Edge tiles and Action tiles.  Elephant tiles score points at the end of the game with players receiving one point for each elephant visible. “Edge” tiles have one side with a different colour; if these are adjacent to the correct colour the player scores an additional five points otherwise they can be ignored.  There are also two sorts of action tiles, which score no points but allows the player to move either a tile or an Elephant.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

After a few slight rules queries, everyone got on with the gentle action of choosing tiles and moving elephants, but gradually everyone became aware of the game’s “Tusks” as Blue left Pine with something he really didn’t want for the second time and what had initially seemed like multiplayer solitaire suddenly wasn’t.  As their areas expanded, players gradually got themselves into difficulties and then struggled to get themselves out of them again.  Although nobody pulled their punches when choosing tiles to leave, everyone offered genuine assistance and friendly opinions, especially to those unfortunate players left with rubbish at the end of the round.  Predictably, having played it before, Blue finished some way ahead of the pack, though Black, with a veritable troop of Elephants in a very tidy array joint top-scored with forty-five, eight ahead of Pine in third.

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Essen is Awsome, and Blue needs cloning.

20th September 2016

Since the planned “Feature Game” (Cuba) was a long one and we didn’t want anyone to get stuck playing two-player games all evening, we decided to play a quick filler until everyone had arrived.  After a brief discussion, we decided to go for Between Two Cities.  This game is quite popular with our group as it is both competitive, and cooperative and, as such, is totally different to anything else we play.  The idea is that, instead of each player having a personal player board that they work on in isolation, each player sits between two boards which they share with their neighbours.  The game play is based on card drafting games like Sushi Go! and 7 Wonders with scoring taking elements from tile-laying games like Carcassonne and Alhambra.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over three rounds with players placing building tiles to construct cities consisting of sixteen tiles in a four by four array.  Each player starts the first round with six tiles, of which they secretly choose two and pass the rest to the left.  Once everyone has chosen their two, everyone reveals their choices and then negotiates with their neighbours to try to to ensure they get the tiles they want in the two cities they have a share in.  Play continues with each player picking up the hand they were passed and choosing another pair of tiles etc. until there are no tiles left.  In the second round players get three double tiles of which they choose two and discard the third.  These double tiles contain two buildings in a vertical or horizontal arrangement.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

This is where things can get difficult, as the final city must form a four by four square and the location of buildings can be critical to their scoring.  For example, a housing estate built in a city with lots of other different types of buildings is worth up to five points at the end of the game, unless it is next to a factory in which case it is only worth one point.  Similarly, an isolated shop is worth two points, but a row of four is worth sixteen points.  The third and final round is played the same way as the first, except that tiles are passed in the opposite direction.  The winner is the player with the highest scoring second city.  We had just begun getting the game out and revising the game play when Black and Purple arrived, the last two expected.  So, in a quick switch, four jumped ship to play the “Feature Game” leaving Black and Purple to join Red, Magenta and Pine in Between Two Cities.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The five cities all had very different characteristics, for example, Pine shared two contrasting cities with Magenta and Red.  The city he shared with Magenta had a pleasing arrangement of houses around a large central park with a couple of shops, bars, offices and a factory.  On his other side he shared the top scoring industrial town with Red which comprised a small housing estate buffered from factories by a row of office blocks.  Red shared her second city with Purple. This was built round a large park with lots of offices some bars, but only the one housing estate which cost it points.  Purple also shared a city with Black comprised two small parks surrounded by houses and bars with a couple of shops thrown in for good measure.  The fifth and final city was another industrial conurbation shared by Magenta and Black with lots of factories, and offices interspersed with bars and restaurants giving it a high score.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The key to the game is to build two cities with similar scoring, but ideally using different components.  The other important factor, however, is the layout of the buildings and keeping them flexible for as long as possible.  The most successful in this regard was Pine, who was sat between the first and third highest scoring cities shared with Magenta and Red, who took second and third place respectively.  Filling in the log book was quite a pantomime, accompanied by photos and complicated diagrams before the group moved on to their next game, Pi mal Pfloumen, also known in our group as “Oh my Plums!”.  We’ve played this a couple of times, most recently last time, but on both occasions we struggled with the clarity of the rules.  This time, we finally managed to play it right (we think) and unsurprisingly, the game worked much better played correctly.

Pi Mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is one of set collecting built on a framework of trick taking.  Each card has a value, a “fruit suit” and, in many cases, a special action as well.  Players take it in turns to play a card, then, starting with the player who played the card with the highest face value, players then take it in turns to choose a card.  These are added to their tableau in front of them.  In general, any special actions are carried out when the card is taken, which can include taking “π cards” (which can be added to cards when they are played to increase their face value), taking cards from other players or claiming the Watchdog card (which protects from card theft).

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Some cards depict a “fruit mix” which lead to scoring opportunities, and can be claimed at any point when a player is taking cards at the end of the trick.  It all made a lot more sense this time though Red still didn’t have a clue what was going on.  It was quite a close game, but was finally decided when Red took a critical plum spoiling Black and Pine’s plans and with it taking the game, just ahead of Purple in second place. With Red and Magenta heading home for an early night and the game on the next table still going, Black, Purple and Pine were looking for something interesting to play.  Blue suggested Oh My Goods!, which is a little card game, but as none of the others had played it (and Blue was engaged elsewhere), they settled down to decipher the rules.  Meanwhile, the neighbouring table were just over halfway through their game of Cuba.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Cuba is a fairly simple game mechanistically, but is deceptively complex thanks to the way actions interact and build on each other.  Each player has a player board featuring a four by four array of plantations and/or buildings and a lot for storage.  They also have a pack of five character cards each with an associated action.  In the first part of each round, players take it in turns to play a character card until they have each played four of them.  In the second part of the round, the remaining character provides the basis of each player’s votes in Parliament, with different characters providing different numbers of votes.  This part of the game is vaguely reminiscent of voting for Laws in Lancaster.  In Cuba, players can improve their position by buying more votes in a blind bidding phase with the winner choosing two which two bills Parliament will enact.  There are a number of little features that give the game teeth, for example, any money spent on buying votes goes to the bank, regardless of whether the player wins or loses.  Similarly, the start player (which decided based on the final character card played) can be critical as it is the tie breaker in the voting phase as well as giving priority in the next round.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Getting these wrong can mess up plans spectacularly, but far more critical are the character cards played, the order they are played in and how they are played.  For example, the Worker card allows a player to move their Worker to any plantation on their player board and then activate the plantation at its new location and all plantations orthogonal to it.  Plantations can generate resources (rock, wood or water) or produce (sugar, citrus fruit or tobacco), but as the game progresses may be replaced by buildings.  Buildings are placed over plantation spaces using the Architect card and exchanging them for resources.  Like plantations, they are activated by playing the Foreman card who activates all buildings orthogonal to the Worker, but does not move the worker as part of the action.  Thus, the relationship between playing the Worker card and playing Foreman card is very important.

 Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Furthermore, there is a significant distinction between resources (cubes), produce (octahedral blocks) and goods (rum and cigars created from sugar and tabacco):  while resources and goods can be stored in the lot, produce will rot if left out overnight and must be moved to the Warehouse before the end of the round if they are to be saved.  In order to move produce to the Warehouse, the Warehouse must be activated by the Foreman.  This could be because it is one of the buildings orthogonal to the Worker or because the player sacrifices his positional advantage and activates the warehouse as a single building anywhere on the board.  Thus, the position of the buildings is very important, not only because careful placement allows players to activate multiple buildings, but also because they are placed on top of plantations which are then no-longer usable.  Produce can also be saved from rotting by either using buildings to turn it into goods or by playing the Mayor to place items on a ship.  This last option can be difficult to rely on however as all merchandise must be placed on the same ship and spaces on each ship are limited.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, while Cuba relies on a good strategy, meticulous planning is also vital for success.  Although we could all see this up front, only Green had played it before (albeit some years ago), so he was the only with an idea of the possible strategies.  So, to give everyone else a few extra moments to familiarise themselves with their player board, Green was declared the start player and took the wooden blue sedan (pinched from the El Presidente expansion as a start player marker).  Green began by building the Dam to increase his board’s water supply, while everyone else started with what appeared to be a more flexible opening by using their Worker to collect resources and produce.  By the end of the first part of the first round, Burgundy had shipped a few goods, Green had collected a lot of water, and Ivory and Blue weren’t sure what they were doing, but had decided that collecting and storing produce seemed like a good base to start from.  Then came second part of the round:  bribing officials to decide which bills should be enacted.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Since Burgundy had been the only one to ship goods he was the only one with fewer than five votes.  Everyone secretly chose an additional amount, but as Green really, really, really wanted this one, he bid four of his ten pesos, while everyone else wasn’t certain how to value the bills and therefore didn’t bid.  So Green chose his expensive laws for the round and in particular the water subsidy which would give him three points straight away.  The second round mirrored the first with everyone choosing their “Worker” until Green played his “Architect”, building the Golf Course (which converts water into victory points).  While everyone else could see what Green was doing, nobody else had worked out what was a good combination of buildings and therefore what strategy to play for. Blue made a mistake thinking the Bank she was would give victory points, but when she activated it she realised it gave her money.  Still, it did give her an advantage during the bribing and in the second round was able to choose the laws.  This time she changed the goods tax from citrus to sugar, and brought in the Harbour Act (this makes any fully loaded ships leave the harbour immediately with all remaining ships moving along accordingly).

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

After taxes had been paid and subsidies received (Green had already converted his water and so did not receive the subsidy this time) the scores were evenly spaced with Green at the front, building a solid lead.   Over the next few rounds everyone stumbled on, still not really sure what to do as Green developed quite a strong lead.  Burgundy was the only one who was really doing any shipping while Ivory had managed to build a Rum Factory and was converting lots of sugar into Rum, which he was hoping to ship.  Unfortunately, he really struggled since only the first ships seemed to required rum and the later ones all seemed to need cigars.  By the time Ivory had given up and sold his rum, ships that did want it finally started appearing, but it was largely too late.  It was at the end of round four when the game took a sudden turn though.  Burgundy had worked hard on shipping, which the rest of us had mostly ignored.  With the Harbour Law still in force, the ships moved on when full and nobody had noticed that Ivory had every piece of merchandise required for the top scoring ship.  So when it was his turn he loaded it completely taking fifteen points, and with it, the lead.  Suddenly everyone knew how important shipping could be.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

With only two rounds to go, it was a bit late to change strategies and only Blue made any inroads using her stash of pesos to win the laws and ensuring she could gather the full five points for fulfilling the taxes while everyone else struggled to get two points. This together with the Rum Café she had built gave her a sudden flurry of points, but it was too, little too late.  In the final final scoring, Green was unable to catch Ivory who finished four points behind Ivory – not how anyone would have predicted from the early rounds where Green had been so dominant and everyone else had been learning.  We had all enjoyed it though, especially once we’d got to grips with the difference between resources, produce and goods.  The sudden change of fortunes as strategies clicked kept it interesting too, though in any future there may be more competition for shipping than there was in this one.  It’s highly likely we’ll play it again soon though.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

As Cuba was coming to an end, Black, Purple and Pine were still making a bit of a meal of Oh My Goods!, getting bogged down in the complexity of the theory of “chaining”.  Although this is the clever part of the game it is a complicated place to start in what is otherwise a simple game.  Players start with a hand of dual purpose cards which can act as resources or buildings.  They also start the  game with a single card face up in front of them, a charcoal burner stacked with face down cards:  charcoal.  The idea is that this charcoal can be used as money to spend on building, or as charcoal to use as an input to other processes.  At the start of each round players get an extra couple of cards before cards are turned over to make the morning market.  This can consist of as few as two cards or as many as eight or more.  The market provides input for buildings – there will be a second, evening market before the end of the round – but players have to use the morning market to provide a steer to decide which building they are going to activate and what they are going to build.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player has one worker and must be assigned to the building he is going to activate.  The worker can can work efficiently or lazily.  If he works efficiently, he will need the necessary resources in full and will provide two items of produce.  On the other hand, if he works lazily, he can manage with one less than the total necessary resources, but will only produce one item.  The resources can come from the market, but can also be topped up from the player’s hand.  Once each player has placed their worker, decided whether he will be efficient or lazy and chosen a card to build, the second market is revealed.  Once this evening market has been completed, players take it in turns to carryout their production and, if appropriate, build.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

A building only produces if the necessary resources (on the bottom left corner of the card) can be provided either through the market or from a players hand.  If the worker is efficient, then he produces twice and two cards are taken from the draw deck and placed face down on the top of the card as produce.  If the worker is lazy, only he only produces once.  This is where the game gets slightly nasty:  if the player cannot supply the required input, then the turn is wasted, though if they have sufficient money, they can still use it to build.  If a building is activated, it can additionally be used to “chain” i.e. produce goods using input from other buildings (rather than the market) and it was this that was confusing people.  The problem is that this is only possible once a player has several building and although it is a key part of the game, the ability to build good working chains is highly dependent on the cards drawn.  As such, it is not something to worry about too much when learning to play.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory and Green left, leaving Blue to try to explain to Pine, Black and Purple, and Burgundy to spectate.  Perhaps it was because it was late and people were tired, or perhaps it was because the players had confused themselves, but the game itself was still rather tortuous.  Pine’s concluding comment was that if Room 101 existed, he knew which game he would be sending there…  In this light the scores seemed rather irrelevant, though it was obvious that the player who understood best was going to win and that was Black who finished with twenty-two points.  He agreed that it was a clever game and he might be interested in giving it another go, though sadly it is probably beyond Blue’s powers of persuasion to encourage Purple or Pine to try again soon.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Sometimes, you don’t have to understand what’s going on, but it usually helps…!

17th May 2016

Red and Blue were late arriving, so while they fed on lamb burger and chips, everyone else settled down to a quick game of Sushi Go! (with added Soy Sauce). This is probably the quickest and simplest of the drafting games.  Drafting is very simple mechanism:  everyone begins with a hand of cards and simultaneously chooses one and passes the rest on.  Once the cards have been revealed, players pick up the hand they’ve been given and again choose a card before passing the hand on.  In this way the hands progressively get smaller with players adding cards to their display.  It is a mechanism used to great effect in more complex games like 7 Wonders and Between Two Cities, where other mechanisms are added to give the game more substance (engine building and semi-cooperative tile laying in these two examples).  In Sushi Go!, the aim of the game is to collect sets of cards, with points awarded for different achievements depending on the type of card.  For example, the player to collect the most maki rolls scores six points while anyone who collects three sashimi gets ten and so on.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Everyone except Burgundy did reasonably well in the first round, with Green getting his nose in front thanks to some well-timed wasabi and a pair of tempura while Purple and Pine fought for the maki roll bonus.  In the second round Burgundy managed reduce his deficit, and Green’s lead took a big dent.  With Black as his main threat, however, Green felt sure he had the situation well under control as he was sat to Black’s left so was the one passing him cards in the last round.  In the end, despite everything, it was a really tight game with almost everyone scoring thirty points before the puddings were evaluated.  As the only one, Burgundy paid the full price for failing to pick up a single pudding card.  In contrast, because of the seating order in the last round Green had been able to ensure that Black was unable to challenge him for the title of “Pudding King” leaving Green the winner by a healthy margin.

Sushi Go!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kladan

With the lamb burgers dealt with, we moved onto our “Feature Game” which was Cargo Noir.  We had two copies, so decide to set them up side by side so we could all play.  This game is nearly ten years old and hasn’t been as popular as other games by Days of Wonder, so most of us had not played it before.  The exact reason for the lack of enthusiasm could be the artwork which is 1950s style and quite drab in colour, so is perhaps less appealing than, for example the highly successful Ticket to Ride and Small World.  Perhaps more significant though is the game play which appears to have a bit of “Marmite Factor” with some people raving about it while others seem to loath it with equal passion.  This is curious because at it’s heart, Cargo Noir is just an auction game, built around set collecting, but with a little bit of bite.

Cargo Noir
– Image by BGG contributor fabricefab

At the beginning of the game each player has three ships and at the start of their turn, each ship will be located at one of the harbours, in the casino and the black market.  On their turn, the first evaluate the status of each of their ships and resolve any auctions; then they trade any sets of goods for cards (which are worth victory points at the end of the game), before finally repositioning any left over ships.  So, like lots of games, Cargo Noir is basically about turning money into points.  Aside from the starting handful of money, the only other source is the casino and ships placed there yield two coins (yes, it IS the only casino in the world that gives out money!).  These can be used to bid for the goods available in the harbours.

Cargo Noir
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ronster0

Each ship can visit one harbour and takes with them a stack of money.  If it is the only ship in the harbour at the start of the players next turn, then the player gets all the goods laid out in the harbour.  If they are not alone, the player can either leave the ship there and add enough money to the stack to win the current bid, or remove the ship from the board taking nothing.  Thus, the trick is to bid enough to keep others away, but not enough to risk bankruptcy.  The final location ships can visit is the black market, which enables players to either trade one of their existing commodities for one on display, or to draw a free tile at random from the bag which can be very useful as it gives a tile without spending money.  Players get “credits” (but no money) for sets goods where all the tiles are either all the same or all different.  Since larger sets give more “credits”, the ability to trade a commodity can enable players to buy more valuable cards.

Cargo Noir
– Image by BGG contributor DaveyJJ

There are some serious limitations for players to consider, for example at the start of the game each player can only carry forward a maximum of six goods to the next round – everything else must be sold.  Similarly, having three ships can be seriously restrictive.  So, some of the victory cards yield fewer points at the end of the game, but give smugglers an edge during it, providing extra cargo ships for example, or giving them access to a warehouse to store extra goods enabling them to build up more credits and buy more valuable cards.  Players who choose to buy a syndicate card can even get money from the bank when they withdraw from a bidding war, which has the potential to provide a nice little earner while damaging opponents, if used wisely.  The game lasts a fixed number of rounds (depending on the number of players) and the player with the most points wins.

Cargo Noir
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

With two copies and seven of us (most of whom were unfamiliar with it), we decided to split into two groups both playing the same game.  In the four player game, Pine (who started) got off to a flying start while everyone else struggled, getting caught in bidding wars.  A few rounds in, Red briefly got her nose in front, but Pine was better positioned and galloped away.  As the game came to a close, Blue fought her way back into the game quickly buying two extra ships and engaging in a “collect as much as possible and sell immediately” approach which sort of worked, but it was too little too late.  Meanwhile, Green collected a massive amount of uranium together, but couldn’t quite make enough on the last round to make a big impact leaving Pine to win with a healthy margin despite finishing with just four ships.

Cargo Noir
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

The other game was very close with Purple doing her best to scupper the plans of Burgundy and Black, but doing more damage to herself in the process.  The game finished with Burgundy taking it by just five points which was particularly galling for Black as he was one coin away from getting the additional five he needed for the draw.  There was a lot of discussion as to whether we liked the game.  Green was of the opinion that there was too much downtime and it was time you couldn’t do very much with as the previous player had the ability to completely upset any plans made in advance.  Red also had misgivings, saying she quite liked it, but wouldn’t bother to go out and buy a copy; Blue commented that as she already had a copy the question was more whether it should be kept, and it would certainly stay for a while yet.  Pine on the other hand, had really enjoyed it (despite the faces he pulled at the start), but in general, consensus seemed to be that it was “OK”, even “quite nice”, but not a “great game”.  It was also perhaps better with three than four and the downtime would have been very significant if playing with five.

Cargo Noir
– Image by BGG contributor thornatron

Green decided to get an early night so the rest of us decided to finish with an older, large group game, Saboteur. This is a bit of an old favourite, and is one of the original hidden traitor/social deduction games.  The idea is that each player is either a Dwarf or a Saboteur and players take it in turns to play cards with the Dwarves aiming to get to the treasure, while the Saboteurs try to stop them.  There are two types of cards that can be played:  tunnels and special cards.  The tunnels come in different shapes and must be played in the correct orientation, so Dwarves try to push the path in the right direction, while Saboteurs try to play disruptive cards while trying to look like they’ve done the best they can with the hand available.  Meanwhile, special cards include “rockfall” cards which can be played to remove a tunnel card already played and maps which can be used to see where the gold is hidden.  Most importantly, however are “broken tool” cards which can be played on another player to prevent them building tunnel cards until they (or another kind-hearted soul) plays a matching “fixed tool” card to remove it.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

We usually play with a few house-rules.  The rules suggest that the game should be played over three “rounds” with the winning team semi-randomly receiving “gold” cards; the overall winner is then the player whose gold cards depict the most gold pieces.  Now, we find that the game can sometimes outstay its welcome and the addition of the gold at the end of the rounds feels like an attempt to make more out of the game, but in actuality just makes it more frustrating as there is a large amount of randomness in their allocation.  So firstly we dispense with this aspect altogether and treat each round as a game in its own right.  That way, we can play one or two games/rounds and then move on, or play extras if everyone is enjoying themselves or time dictates.  Secondly, the teams are drawn from a pool cards so that there is an unknown number of Saboteurs around.  Although it’s nice to have this additional uncertainty, we’ve always found (particularly with six players) that the minimum number of Saboteurs makes the game very easy for the Dwarves, so we tend to play with a fixed number of Saboteurs.  This time, we debated whether to add the expansion, Saboteur 2, but decided against it as the characters seemed to be completely random draw and we didn’t really have time to think about the implications properly – maybe next time.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

The first “game” was very cagey with everyone looking very “saboteur-y” and everyone accusing everyone else of “saboteur behaviour”.  In the event, it turned out that all the dwarves had poor hands, and it was fairly clear that the Saboteurs had won when first Pine and then Blue outed themselves to ensure that the Dwarves didn’t make it home.  The accusations were already flying about as the cards were being dealt out with Pine commenting that it was highly unlikely that he would be a Saboteur twice in a row and even more unlikely that Blue would be too.  This quickly degenerated into a discussion of probability and how the probability was actually exactly the same as last time as the two events were independent, even though the probability of the identical set of Saboteurs is relatively unlikely.  Unlikely it may have been, but this time it happened.  In an effort to do something different and in the hope that her behaviour would look different, Blue outed Pine as a Saboteur since everyone was already somehow suspicious.  Nobody really fell for it however, and it was a fairly easy win for the Dwarves.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Since we’d had two games with the same Saboteurs, we decided to play a third.  This time things were going reasonably well for the Saboteurs as the Dwarves were struggling with poor cards again.  Red was already looking shifty, so when the Dwarves suddenly got it together and headed in the right direction quickly, nobody was terribly surprised when she outed herself because by playing a “rockfall” card. As she drowned under a hailstorm of “broken tool” cards, Red declared that the other Saboteur was going to have to pull their finger out or it would be all over.  Black was sat to her left, but miscounted the distance to the gold and played a map card.  This left Purple and Pine to finish the game and everyone question why Black hadn’t played his rockfall card, especially Red who was quite vehement in her criticism of Saboteurs who don’t pull their weight!  With that, much hilarity ensued and eventually everyone headed home.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

Learning Outcome:  If you are going to try to win, don’t leave it too late.

5th April 2016

Despite a few regulars being away, there were still enough people for two games and the first group opted for the “Feature Game”, Agricola, a highly regarded game about medieval farming.  Agricola is a worker placement game where players take it in turns to deploy the members of their farming family in activities.  At the start of the game there are very few actions and each  player only has two members of their family, but as the game progresses the number of possible actions increases, but players also have the opportunity to expand their families. Each player has a farm which consists of a three by five grid of spaces and at the start of the game two of them are occupied by a two-room wooden hut.  During the game, players can expand their hut, upgrade their wooden shack to a brick or stone house, they can plough fields, enclose land to keep animals and grow vegetables and wheat.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor BeyondMonopoly

The game is played over fourteen rounds with harvests at intervals after which the family must be fed.  Failing to feed the family results in them going hungry and having to beg for vittles which costs points at the end of the game.  Points are awarded for almost everything, but the most successful players are usually those with a thriving farm that makes full use of all the available land and sustains a large family living in a big farmhouse.  The game can be played as a family game, or, for more experienced players, occupation and minor improvement cards can be added.  It had been quite some time since some of us had last played Agricola, and others had never played it, but those of us who were familiar with the game were keen to play with the cards.  When playing with cards it is common to “draft”, i.e. use the primary mechanism found in games like 7 Wonders, Sushi Go! and Between Two Cities where each player chooses a card from their hand before passing it on and choosing the next card from the hand they receive (passing that on until there are no cards left).  The advantage of this approach is that no single player gets all good (or bad) cards by chance, but the disadvantage is that it is very hard to choose cards when players are new to the game and unfamiliar with which cards might work well.  For this reason, drafting wasn’t really an option.  The copy of the game had been “pimped” with shaped wooden resources to replace the original cubes and discs from the base game.  This, combined with three different decks of minor improvements and tight space enhanced our initial confusion, but we did eventually get ourselves sorted and chose the basic “E” Deck.

Agricola
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Green started off by learning a new occupation: Reed Collector; reeds are important for house building.  Having looked at his cards in hand, he had a plan:  he also had the Renovator which would reduce the cost to upgrade his farmhouse, so he thought he could expand his wooden house and then upgrade it on the cheap. He also had the Chiefs Daughter who would give him an additional three points if he successfully upgraded his house to stone. Meanwhile, the others set about collecting resources as a base from which to build their farms.  Indigo quickly learnt the second occupation of the game: the Hedge Keeper which would enable her to build three additional fences each time she built at least one – impressively powerful we thought at the time, especially at end game for filling unused spaces.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor lolcese

The first rounds were a lesson in frustration as resources and actions were limited and we all found ourselves unable to get what we needed and do what we wanted, a problem compounded by only having two farmers each.  Progress on the farms seemed slow; Green, Pine and burgundy seemed more interested in home improvements than actual farming and at one point it looked like we should have renamed the game, “Yuppy-ville”.  Green then invested in a canoe and went fishing a lot:  was the price of farming so high he was going into retirement before he got into a financial mess?  Despite her highly prized hedge making ability, it wasn’t Indigo who fenced in their first field but Pine, which he promptly filled with the four sheep that no-one had been able to find a home for previously.  This was especially funny since, as the vegetarian of the group, he had planned to make his and arable farm rather than a pastoral farm.  Still sheep are good for wool, so his moral stance was intact, for the moment, at least. Released from Market, Pine’s sheep quickly produced a nice spring lamb for our intrepid veggie farmer, to keep as a pet in his farmhouse.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy meanwhile had made use of his special ploughing skills to turn over two fields in one go, but that was about as far as they went for many rounds.  Although he was forced into a fallow strategy (not one that scores any points or subsidies in this game), he wasn’t complaining. That was reserved for anyone else who took the available wood before he could reach it.  This forced Burgundy into becoming a bit of a clay specialist which meant he was able to build an oven before anyone else, something he desperately needed to feed his family since there was so little actual production going on on his farm.  In keeping with his non-farming, farming strategy, Burgundy was also the first to renovate his home, twice in quick succession to a give him a grand two room stone cottage.  Pine and Green followed and extended their wooden shacks. This gave Green room to grow and he became the first player to gain an extra farmer.  Pine quickly followed suit, but his attempts to grow vegetables was being scuppered by everyone else taking the one available “Plough & Sow” space before him. So, with a tear in his eye, he was forced to build an oven and take some of his precious sheep to the abattoir.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor HRune

Our farms were slowly growing.  Green still only had one ploughed field and no pastures, but he had learnt several trades, built a number of improvements to his farm and extended his modest cottage to four rooms.  In one move, he upgraded his house to brick and built a clay oven (the one that Indigo had just returned after trading it in for a better model), which enabled him to bake bread and get enough food to feed his burgeoning family.  By this time, Pine had turned into a hardened livestock farmer, his earlier heartache a mere distant memory.  He enclosed his massive second pasture, moved his sheep around and expanded into cattle.  The Master Hedge Maker, Indigo, still had only one pasture and no animals, but the arable part of her mixed farm was very healthy, overflowing with wheat.  The failure of her livestock attempts did not last long either, and she emulated Pine enclosing a large second pasture and captured a couple of wild boar to place in it.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor sufertashu

Back on Green’s farm, he had decided that maybe he should do a little farming and finally having got some wood, he built some fences and acquired some pigs. His skill in ceramics had enabled him to get a free pottery and started turning the now unwanted clay into some strange tasting food.  Green then turned his clay house into a stone mansion and quickly fenced in another pasture and got some cattle.  With the game rapidly drawing to a conclusion he had four farmers to work with, but he was still hampered by the availability of resources and actions, often taken by others.  For example, his plans for a third pasture and some sheep were stymied by Pine who nabbed them to add to his ever growing flock.  Meanwhile, Indigo’s farm was flourishing and when she finally got some sheep, it seemed all she needed to to to be able to say she had a finger in every pie was get some some cattle – one was available and she was so keen on it that she let it live with her in her own house.

RedAgricola
– Image by boardGOATS

In contrast, Burgundy’s whole game seamed to have constantly been scuppered at every turn.  Even taking the start token usually only lasted one round and invariably he then seemed to find himself choosing at the end of the round once more. We don’t quite know how he did it, but somehow by the end of the game he had filled every space on his board – clearly he got that wood and fencing in the end.  With only two rounds left, Pine finally moved into wheat and vegetables.  Discussing the game afterwards he commented that he’d been dealt a poor set of cards at the start and on reflection they did look like a very difficult set to work with.  On the other hand, Black on the next table piped up that the cards were not really all that important.  While that may be the case, in this game Green was the winner primarily thanks to having played a great set of cards. In fact, of his forty-three points, he scored twelve from his cards, which was seven more than anyone else.  In contrast, Indigo’s balanced farm netted her a solid second place, just six points behind.  Were the cards that important?  We’ll play it again sometime soon and maybe find out.

Agricola
– Image by BGG contributor nolemonplease

On the other table, meanwhile, The Voyages of Marco Polo was getting a second outing after its introduction at our last meeting.  The game is played over five rounds with players recreating Marco Polo’s journey to China via Jerusalem and Mesopotamia and over the “Silk Road”.  Each player has a different character and special power in the game.  Each round, the players roll their five personal dice and can perform use them to perform one action each per turn.  The actions include:  gathering resources, gathering camels, earning money, buying purchase orders and travelling.  The game ends with players receiving victory points for arriving in Beijing, fulfilling the most purchase orders, and having visited the cities on secret city cards that each player gets at the start of the game.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor bovbossi

Purple (who also played last time) decided to try the teleporting trader, Johannes Caprini again and work more on getting contracts.  Last time, we realised that taking an action first was a huge benefit because it avoided the problem of having to pay to take actions.  So, after that, Black chose Berke Kahn which would allow him to choose actions already taken without having to pay.   Scarlet, who was new to the game, opted for Wilhelm von Rubruk (played by Black last time) for the extra trading stations.  Also new to the game, Pink, felt that having an extra die and contract each round would give her the edge, and chose with Matteo Polo.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Despite her teleporting ability, Purple was unable to get to Beijing, but she was the only one who hadn’t made it across the board for the extra points by the end of the game.  It seemed her extra experience could not help her make full use of her special power as she failed to complete her second destination card as well.  Reading opinion of this character on BoardGameGeek, it seems Purple’s fondness of this character is rather misplaced, as it seems to be universally felt to be a poor one to get to work.  Scarlet had done rather better with his choice it seems, although he just failed to get his extra houses out, which is a tough ask in this game.  Others who play this character seem to get varied results, though perhaps for people that can make it work, it can do really well, but otherwise it can trip players up.  The general opinion on Matteo Polo also appears to be good; sometimes it can work really well, but it is never a hindrance.  Pink, however, just struggled to get the game to work for her and it just didn’t seem to fire her enthusiasm. She failed to complete either of her destinations and only managed to place three “houses” and generally found the game difficult all the way through.

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Looking back at the last time we played, as well as Johannes Caprini and Wilhelm von Rubrukand, we used Mercator ex Tabriz and Kublai Kahn.  Mercator ex Tabriz (who gives the player a free resource when others use the market) seems to be widely regarded as the best character, however, Pine really struggled with him. In contrast, Kublai Kahn appears to be seen as a middling character, who is very reliant on how the city bonuses fall – last time they fell well for Green who made good use of them, but the character could be a lot less effective if the bonuses were less favourable.  There are two characters we have not yet played, Raschid-ad-Din Sinan and the pairing of Niccolo and Marco Polo.  Even though Raschid-ad-Din Sinan looks good (he allows the player to choose their own dice values), it seems most players only rate him average.  Maybe it’s because poor dice rolls can be compensated for and turn into good ones, so the actual values rolled are of less consequence to the game than might be thought initially.  The pairing of Niccolo and Marco Polo can be difficult to make work as two characters does not mean twice the resources, quite the opposite and they can get stuck in a city, although with less players it is felt they might do better (as there are less opponents to steal the city bonuses first).

The Voyages of Marco Polo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

So clearly, although some characters might have a tendency to be more useful than others, ultimately success depends on circumstances and how well the player uses that character.  This was also the case for this, our second game where Black finished first with a massive fifty-eight points, a combination of a good character played effectively. On the geek there seems to be a general consensus that Berke Khan is one of the top characters in this game, demonstrating others appreciate the power of not having to pay for actions. With Agricola still a few rounds from finishing, there was time for a quick game of Click & Crack, a game of simultaneous action selection game in which the players control two penguins each, walking around on a big ice floe – a cold arctic game to contrast with the heat of the eastern deserts.

Click & Crack
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is best to put even the most deep-seated moral objections to one side for the duration of a game…

31st December 2015

As people arrived, we began setting up the “Feature Game”.  This, as has become traditional at these New Year events, was the gorgeous, dexterity car-racing game, PitchCar. Burgundy and Pink built a fantastic figure-of-eight track that made good use of the ⅛ turns from the second expansion and made a really fast compact circuit. Before long, Black and Purple had arrived and had introduced themselves to the furry host, followed by Grey and Cerise who were armed with Champagne and Polish delicacies.

PitchCar
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is quite simple, players take it in turns to flick their small wooden cars once, starting with the player at the front of the pack. If the car leaves the track or rolls over, the player forfeits stroke and distance (though any collateral gains by other players stand).  We usually have a single solo lap to determine the order on the start grid and to allow new players to get their eye in, before racing two laps of the track.  While Blue and Pink occupied themselves in the kitchen, everyone else began their practice run.

PitchCar
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Cerise went first and set a very competitive bench-mark of ten flicks mastering the bridge from the first expansion on her second attempt. Asked whether she’d played it before, she replied, not since she was tiny, playing with bottle-tops. It turned out that Grey had also had a similarly mis-spent childhood and this with his competitiveness made him a formidable opponent. Black and Burgundy gave them a run for their money, but Grey took the lead and held off the competition to take first place, with Cerise close behind, a worthy second.

PitchCar
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

With pizza already over-cooked, everyone helped to quickly pack up and then sat down for dinner. Once everyone had eaten their fill, Pink began tidying while everyone else began the next game, Ca$h ‘n Guns. This game combines gambling with a little chance and a dash of strategy, based round the theme of gangsters divvying up their ill-gotten gains by playing a sort of multi-player Russian Roulette. For some reason, setting up degenerated into a discussion about the offensive weapons act and Tony Martin and the debate was still going by the time Pink had finished what he was doing, so he joined in.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Black, (playing “The Hustler”), chose to enact his special power by trading a bullet card for one of Blue’s blanks, much to her delight. Then, Pink (playing “The Doctor”), started as the Godfather, so acted as caller. So, once everyone had “loaded” their weapon with blanks or bullets, on, the count of three, everyone pointed their foam gun at someone. Pink chose to invoke the Godfather’s Prerogative and decided Purple looked most threatening, so directed her to point her gun at Burgundy.  The Godfather then counted to three to give everyone a reasonable chance to withdraw from “The Game”, but also relinquish their claim to a share of the loot for that round.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Throughout, everyone was feeling quite brave, but it was Burgundy (“The Cute”) who had a particularly strong incentive to stay in, as his special power allowed him to take $5,000 before anyone else got a look in.  It was a power he used to great effect taking an early obvious lead.  Meanwhile, Blue (“The Vulture”) was the first to draw blood, defending her property against Grey (“The Greedy”).  Like The Vulture she was, when Grey picked up a second wound, Blue finished him off and took two pictures from his still warm, lifeless hands. With, Burgundy clearly in the lead, Blue had help taking him down, and Pink got caught in the cross-fire.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Picking the pockets of two corpses in the same round made her something of a target and in the next round she found the staring down all three remaining barrels which effectively put her out of the game.  Purple (“The Collector”), began collecting diamonds, but, it was Cerise (“The Lucky Man”)’ who picked up the $60,000 for getting the most diamonds.  As “The Collector”, Purple managed to score a staggering five pictures netting her $100,000 giving her a cool $156,000, $6,000 ahead of Black in second place, with Cerise a close third with $146,000.

Ca$h 'n Guns
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With seven of us, we’d normally split into two groups, but the party atmosphere had got to us a little, and with limited table space we were keen to stick together.  With the majority of Blue and Pink’s not inconsiderable game collection at our disposal, we eschewed the usual go-to seven player game, Bohnanza, and decided to play play Between Two Cities. We played this a few weeks ago, but in essence, it is a draughting game, but one that has the depth of 7 Wonders, but with the simplicity of Sushi Go!.  As before, we didn’t use any of the seating randomisers, but since we were all sat in different places and three players were new to it, this didn’t matter.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy and Black began to build up a large number of factories and thought they were in with a chance of scoring heavily with them, but didn’t notice that Grey and Pink, had more, as did Blue and Pink. Blue and Black began with a complete row of shops, and followed it with extensive white collar employment opportunities, but were unable to expand the park as much as they wanted.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Grey and Cerise had developed a retail outlet centre with no fewer than seven shops and a number of conveniently situated houses and office blocks. Cerise’s other city, shared with Purple began as a paradise with parks and entertainments, until they added a factory to increase the value of their housing stock. Parks had been popular at the start of two other cities too, with Purple starting her other city the same way with Burgundy, and Blue and Pink doing something very similar.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

After three rounds we began the complicated matter of the scores. It was quite close, but Blue and Pink’s City was disproportionately ahead, a problem that was rectified with a quick recount that left two cities jointly leading on sixty. In the normal way, the winning city can only ever be important as a tie-breaker since it is the city with the fewer points that makes each players’ score. In this case, however, Pink owned both, with Blue and Grey. Since Blue’s other city (shared with Black) had fifty-nine points, that put her a close second.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

A quick interlude followed for non-alcoholic Champagne, alcoholic Prosecco, white chocolate, pistachio and Diaquiri fudge, with the chimes of Big Ben and fireworks. Once the New Year greetings were complete, it was onto the important matter of what to play next. Such a large number of players meant the choices were limited, so we went with a couple of old favourites.  Tsuro was first, a quick fun game that we all know well and that featured on our list of ten great games to play with the family at Christmas.

Tsuro
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

A game that anyone can play, in Tsuro each player has a “stone” dragon and on their turn places a tile in front of it and moves the dragon along the path. As the board becomes increasingly crowded, the tiles form a maze of paths that the stones must navigate, staying on the board without colliding with anyone else while trying to eliminate everyone else.  Grey and Cerise were the first to go out by collision, followed by Burgundy who was ejected from the board by Purple. Black eliminated both Pink and Blue with one tile, before winning the game by dealing with the only remaining competitor, Purple.

Tsuro
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor zombiegod

With that over, there was just time for another of our favourite games of 2015, 6 Nimmt!.  For a reason none of us understand, this mixture of barely controlled chaos is strangely compelling, so it is a game we keep coming back to again and again. Despite the number of times we’ve played it as a group, somehow Grey had missed out, so we had a quick summary of the rules: players simultaneously choose a card, then starting with the lowest value card the players take it in turns to add their card to the four rows on the table in ascending order. The player who adds a sixth card, instead takes the first five cards to score and the sixth becomes the first card in the new row. As well as the face value of the cards, they also have a number of bulls’ heads (Nimmts) mostly one or two, but some as many as five or even seven.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

The aim is to minimise the number of Nimmts picked up, so things went horribly wrong from the start, with everyone picking up plenty in the first round, though it remained close aside from Purple who picked up nearly twice what anyone else took. The second round was made especially difficult by the fact that three of the four rows were effectively out of commission. Blue struggled with four cards with a value below ten as well as the highest card in the deck. Purple managed to exceed her score in the first round, giving her a near record- breaking fifty-one. Grey and Burgundy both managed a clean sheet in the second round, so it was Burgundy’s better score of just seven, that gave him the win. So with 2016 started in fine style, we decided it was time for bed.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Although seven is a difficult player count, there are some excellent games available when everyone is in the right mood.