Tag Archives: Between Two Cities

23rd January 2018

Once the inevitable pizzas were dealt with, we settled down to the “Feature Game”.  This was Cities of Splendor, the expansion to Splendor, a splendid little game that we’ve played quite a lot since its release in 2014. The base game is really quite simple, but although a lot of groups apparently find it very dull, our group seem to find quite a lot of mileage in its subtlety and trying to get the better of Burgundy who mostly seems pretty unbeatable.  According to the rulebook, players are Renaissance merchants trying to buy gem mines, transportation methods and artisans in order to acquire the most prestige points. The most wealthy merchants might even receive a visit from a noble, which will further increase their prestige.  Despite all this, the game itself is, in truth, really quite abstract.  Players have essentially have three options on their turn: they can pick up gem tokens; buy a development card, or reserve a development card (and take a Gold token).

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

When picking up tokens, the active player can either take three different gems, or, as long as there are four or more available, two the same, with a hand-limit of ten.  These are then used to buy development cards which provide the player with a permanent supply of gems of a given colour and sometimes, some prestige points. The development cards come in three decks, and the Level Three cards as significantly more difficult to obtain, often requiring many gems.  Sometimes it can be a good idea to reserve a particular card, preventing another player from taking it and getting a Gold token in return, which can be used in place of any gemstone when buying a development card.  At the start of the game there is a small number of noble tiles each with with a requirement (e.g. four opals and four rubies); the first player to fulfil this requirement gets the noble and the associated number of prestige points.  The first player to fifteen prestige points is the winner.

Cities of Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The expansion, Cities of Splendor, consists of four small modules:  Trading Posts; Strongholds; The Orient, and the eponymous Cities.  We were a little concerned that these expansions were going to take a game we enjoyed largely because it is so very simple, and make it unnecessarily complex (a phenomenon we had experienced previously with some parts of the Between Two Cities expansion, Capitals).  However, unusually, these modules must be used independently of each other, each providing a really very small tweak to the game, but potentially changing the dynamics quite dramatically.  For example, Strongholds provides three little plastic towers for each player, which can be moved by the active player whenever they take a development card.  The active player can either place or move one of their own strongholds, or remove someone else’s, thus providing another way to reserve a development card.  Alternatively, this effectively provides a way for everyone to “gang up” on one player, so this module has been renamed the “Get Burgundy” module…

Cities of Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

We only had one copy of the expansion, but with several copies of the base game we decided to split into two groups, each playing different modules.  The groups were split along the lines of who wanted to get beaten by Burgundy and who didn’t.  The first group to get going contained Black and Blue, who were optimistic that the changes introduced by the expansion might upset Burgundy just enough to give someone else a chance to win.  As they don’t normally get the chance to play with them, they started with nobles drawn at random from the 2016 and 2017 Brettspiel Advent calendars and the promotional set and then had to decide which expansion module to use.   Rather than opting for the “Get Burgundy” module, they decided it would be fairer to choose something else and opted for the Trading Posts module.  This provides an additional small board with five “Posts” with specific requirements, which if fulfilled give players extra options.  For example, a player with one diamond and three ruby development cards is allowed to collect a single token every time they buy a development card.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although Splendor is normally quite a thoughtful game, it usually moves along quite quickly. However, the addition of the expansion, slowed the normal fast pace quite noticeably as everyone spent more time working through the options for each turn, especially at the start.  It wasn’t unpleasantly slow though, particularly as everyone had plenty to think about during the down time. Burgundy grabbed lots of diamonds and quickly began to claim some of the special powers available from the Trading Posts, making particularly good use of the first one which allowed him to collect a token every time he picked up a development card.  Black tried to go for the last two Trading posts, one of which gave him two a point for each other Trading Post he had claimed and another which gave him a straight five points.  Blue had started well, but was finding that all the diamond cards had evaporated which brought her game to an abrupt halt.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It wasn’t long before Burgundy was picking up his second noble, and with Black two turns away from finishing the game himself, the game came to an end as Burgundy claimed his fifteenth point, six more than anyone else.  Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, they were playing with The Orient Module.  This provides ten extra development cards at each of the three levels, a total of six of which are placed face up (two from each level).  These red-backed, “Orient” cards have interesting and unusual powers.  For example, there is a level one card which acts as a single use, pair of gold tokens which can be used at any time during the game.  The other card available from the level one deck is an “Association” card which is immediately associated with one other card and increases the yield of that card by one.  There are also some double gem cards and one that enables players to reserve a noble.  Everyone made good use of the double gold cards and the “money bag” Association cards (aka “onion” cards) in the first row of Orient cards.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The second row expansion cards remained in place for quite some time. Purple took a lot of development cards using gold tokens, Green plodded away with opal and sapphire development cards, while Red was trying to hold on to her double gold cards to use on those difficult to get top row cards.  Eventually Green claimed a level two Orient card, a double red gem, which got him to within a whisker of getting the first noble, but Red had other plans.  An Orient card swiftly enabled her to reserve the noble, take from under Green’s nose and thus preventing him from taking a commanding lead.  Before long, Green was back, however, having built up his opals and diamonds which enabled him to claim Isabelle of Castile (with four opals and four diamonds). Then it was only a matter of time, Red claimed her noble, but couldn’t stop Green taking a top row card to finish the game with sixteen points leaving Purple, who had started, very frustrated—she was just one turn from claiming her reserved card which would have given her the last noble and fifteen points.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Red had really enjoyed the extra challenge and had felt that the higher level expansion cards hadn’t really come into play and fancied giving it another go.  So, unusually for the group, rather than packing up, it got a second game.  There was a brief debate whether going first in Splendor is an advantage or not and the discussion spread to the next table.  It seems to be perceived wisdom, but there was a debate about whether the fact that players at the end of the round can get an extra turn (and so play for more points) might offset that.  Ultimately, no-one felt it made much of a difference and since Purple had started last time, it was between Green and Red, so they played Rock-Paper-Scissors to decide. With the excitement building, the count began, 1, 2, 3!  Round One was a draw: both had paper.  With the tension so tight you could cut it with blunt knife they started across the table at each other and prepared for the second round; a switch from paper was likely, but which way: Green went Scissors, but Red took the game with a well timed Rock and started the second game of Splendor.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Playing for a second time did not change the amount of thought that went into each turn; it always felt like a conundrum, one where several moves looked like good ones.  Perhaps the Orient cards hadn’t been shuffled very well, but all the level one “Onion” Association cards came out first and the double gold cards seemed to be stuck at the bottom of the pile. Red claimed to not know what she was doing, but made efficient use of her “Onions” nonetheless.  Purple continued her gold token strategy making sure she took whatever looked useful to Green while Green ironically, just couldn’t get any green emerald cards.  In fact the emerald development card handicap became quite a problem, especially since the other two were holding on to their green tokens and while an “Onion” card might have helped, he still needed one emerald card to start with! Eventually, Green was forced to change his strategy and picked up a level two expansion card to reserve the noble he was after before someone else had the chance to pinch it—all the more critical since it was the only one he could get under the circumstances.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Red took the lead when she gained her first noble, but she said it wouldn’t last long, and she was right. Purple was next and was able to reserve a noble for herself, then Green claimed his reserved noble. The game continued to be quite tight and even though Green managed to claim a second noble, it wasn’t enough to end the game. That privilege fell to Red who finished with seventeen points. Purple was left with nothing she could do to increase her score, but that led to a debate as to what Green might be able to do. With twelve points, green needed five to draw level with Red and there was a five point card he could claim on the table. However, if Purple took that he would then only be able to claim a three point card, unless the card purple took was replaced with another five point development he could claim.  Purple decided to play king-maker and took the card leaving an unhelpful replacement card leaving him two points behind Red, the winner.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Since Red, Green and Purple had gone onto a second game, Blue and Black decided to do likewise and have another pop at Burgundy.  This time, Blue went on the offensive and decided that black opals were essential to her game plan and a couple of rounds in, suddenly realised that she had almost all the black tokens and there were no attainable opal development cards available.  With the others in dire straights, Blue was able to completely strangle the game.  The problem with this strategy is that holding all the tokens of one colour is a very powerful position to be in, but that power is useless unless those tokens are spent and then the power is gone.  Additionally, the other players will inevitably build up their cards in other colours and eventually this will lead to accessible cards for the rare gem turning up.  So, timing is critical and there is a lot of luck involved as well.  Perhaps the key part is to ensure that the amount of effort put in to controlling the game doesn’t exceed the value obtained.  Inevitably, Blue didn’t have the perfect timing required and eventually Burgundy broke free, finishing the game with a massive twenty points, leaving the others standing.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dotkeller

The fact that both tables wanted to give their module another go says a lot about what we thought of them.  Clearly, the changes to the rules were not enormous but added a nice little bit of variation to a game we’ve played and enjoyed a lot.  Inevitably, we felt some of the Trading Posts some seemed much more powerful than others.  For example, the second Post enabled a player to take an extra gem of a different colour when taking two gems of the same colour.  The problem with this is that taking two tokens of the same colour is only possible if there are at least four tokens available in that colour.  In the two and three player games this is relatively unusual until later on when players have a lot of cards and no-longer need tokens, by which time it is too late.  In the four player game, we felt this would become much more valuable though.  On the other table, the players still felt they had been unable to use the high value Orient cards, even after a second attempt.  This led to a lot of discussion, in particular whether raising end-game trigger from fifteen to twenty, might encourage their use.  Certainly it could be an interesting variant to try on another occasion, either way, Cities of Splendor is certainly going see the table again for lots of reasons: it has breathed new life into the old game, we have two the other two modules to try, and Burgundy went straight out and bought a copy as well!

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

While Burgundy was finishing beating Black and Blue black and blue, the other group were looking for something to play.  Red had started the evening relating her failed attempts to acquire Kingdomino for less than a fiver.  She had been keen to get hold of it even though she had not played it, so this seemed an opportune moment for Red to be properly introduced to the game.  It’s such a simple game that the rules explanation was quickly done:  Players take a domino which they add to their kingdom and then place their meeple on one of the dominoes on display for the next round.  There are a couple of really clever bits to this game though.  Firstly, since the dominos have a numerical value and are set out and taken, from low to high, players going for the more valuable tiles are trading this value against their position in the turn order.  Secondly, the two ends of the dominos depict terrain and when placed one end must connect to terrain of the same type already in the kingdom (or connect directly to the start tile).  Since all dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space (or be discarded) keeping options open is an essential part of the game.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Finally, some tiles also depict one or more crowns, which are the key to scoring as each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region.  This means that no matter how big an area is, it is worthless without any crowns.  Although it is a simple little game, it is easy to make a fatal mistake, and that’s exactly what happened this time.  Somehow, Purple messed up her grid patterns, but worse was to come.  She had been targetting mountains and pastures, while both Red and Green were looking to forests and lakes to fill their kingdoms. With only three playing a dozen dominoes were removed and it was not until the end of the game (face down).  It was only at the end of the game that it became apparent why Red and Green had found it so much easier to fulfil their plans—the high scoring mines and lots of pasture (including three of the crown tiles) had been removed. The odds had been heavily stacked against Purple this time.  With the others both getting a full set of bonus points, it was very close between first and second despite the fact that Green had played the game several times.  In the end there was only two points  in it, with Green the narrow victor.

Kingdomino
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

On the other table, Cities of Splendor had finished and the group were looking for something to play.  Inspired by the nearby game of Kingdomino, Black spotted Queendomino which he had not yet played.  Blue commented that she was happy to play it and be proven wrong, but that she felt it took all the good things in a great little game and broke it.  In her mind, the comparison was similar to that of Tsuro and Tsuro of the Seas.  The former is a short, light game that plays lots of people and despite player elimination is still great fun with minimal downtime.  On the other hand, playing Tsuro of the Seas at the Didcot Games Club had, on one notable occasion, ended up with Burgundy getting knocked out a couple of turns in and spending the next hour and a half as a spectator.   In Blue’s eyes, Queendomino’s first offence was the fact that instead of the tidy little box that Kingdomino came in, it had a huge, Ticket to Ride sized box, mostly because there was a tile-tower included.  This offended her sense of efficiency, but wouldn’t have been so bad, if it had worked properly.  Although the magnetic closing mechanism was cool, Blue in particular had repeated difficulties getting the tiles out of the bottom, a problem that was exacerbated as the stack got smaller and the reduced mass pressed less on the tile being drawn out, making it increasingly difficult.

Queendomino
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

As for the game, the basic mechanism is the same as Kingdomino, however, there is an extra tile type: red building plots.  These act exactly the same as the other terrain types, except that there are a number of building tiles on display that payers can buy and add to their kingdom.  This building display is only refilled at the end of the round which can make being late in the turn order more of a problem.  This can be compounded if someone chooses to bribe the dragon to burn down one of the buildings.  Amongst other things, these buildings provide knights and turrets that players can use to collect taxes and score more points.  While this has the potential to make the game deeper, the downside is that it can make the already slightly mathsy scoring even worse.  Despite all this and Blue’s really rather appalling rules explanation, everyone was surprisingly keen to give it a go.  Burgundy inevitably, tried to profit from the new components and eagerly started collecting wooden turrets.  Blue and Black were a little more circumspect, though both of them picked up a few knights and used them to good effect to collect enough in taxes to ensure they were able to build a couple of nice buildings.

Queendomino
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

In the end, it surprisingly close, and after several re-counts, Black was deemed the winner, six points ahead of Burgundy in second place.  Looking at the scores, it turned out that both Black and Blue had made most of their points on the original terrain, and it was arguable how much the new buildings had really helped.  Burgundy’s entire game plan had revolved around the new buildings, but somehow, although it looked like he was running away with it, the game hadn’t quite panned out like that.  Blue asked what the others thought of it and Burgundy commented that he’d be happy to give it another go, but that was in complete contrast to Black, who’s one word answer, summed up Blue’s feelings, “Terrible”.  At some point point during the game, Red had asked whether Blue would feel better about the game if it didn’t have the tower, to which Blue replied that it wasn’t the tower per se, it was more that the tower was a metaphor for all all the stuff they had added to the original Kingdomino game:  it was nice to look at, but fiddly, totally un-necessary and overall made the whole experience much less enjoyable.  With that, she had removed the tiles from the tower and immediately felt better about the whole thing, but not enough to save the game from being sold at the earliest opportunity.  So, Burgundy might not get his second chance to play it after all.

Queendomino
– Image used with permission of
boardgamephotos

Meanwhile on the next table, everyone was feeling a little tired, but as the hugely complex game of Queendomino, was still going on, Red and Green decided not to leave Purple relegated to observer, and chose to play one more short game.  The game in question was Battle Kittens, primarily because it’s got kittens in it, but also because it’s quite quick.  This was a game Blue picked up on a trip to Reading with Green, and, as he had enjoyed it more than she had, he’d received it as a little gift at the GOATS New Year Party.  At it’s core, it is a card drafting game where players draft their hand of kitten cards and then send them off to battle.  Each of the three arenas will contest three of the four kittenny attributes: agility, strength, wisdom and cuteness.  Players decide which kittens they want to put into each arena and then resolve any special cards with the highest total running out the winner.  At various times, both Purple and Red had a victory cruelly snatched away from them to the benefit of Green. The first time this happened was to Red who had a high score with three kittens and had it ended there she would have won that battle.  Unfortunately, she was forced to take a King card first, and lost all her other kittens and ended up losing the battle. Similarly, in the second round, Purple managed to get some really good Crown cards and won a couple of battles quite convincingly, but they either gave more fish for coming second or gave an equal number for first and second place and thus did nothing to dent Green’s growing pile of fish as his kittens gambolled their way to victory.

Battle Kittens
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Some expansions really add to the game, others can take a great game and make it “terrible”.

14th November 2017

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

– Image by boardgoats

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

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Flamme Rouge
– Image by BGG contributor mattridding

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

Flamme Rouge
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor zombiegod

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

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

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

Azul
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

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

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

– Image by BGG contributor damnpixel

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

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

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

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

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

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

13th June 2017

Purple and Black were first to arrive and were finishing off their supper when Burgundy joined them.  While Burgundy waited for for his dinner to arrive, he joined Purple and Black in a quick game of Kingdomino.  This is a fairly light little game that has recently been nominated for this year’s Spiel des Jahres Award.  Kingdomino is a simple little tile laying game with elements borrowed from other games, in particular, Carcassonne and Dominoes.  These are combined to make a well presented family game that is in with a great chance of winning the award.  During the game, players taking it in turns to add to their kingdom by placing dominoes that depict different terrains types.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The dominoes comprise two squares each featuring one of six different terrain types: pasture, cornfield, woodland, sea, swamp and mountain.  Some tiles also depict one or more crowns.  When the dominoes are placed, one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or connect to their starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more of dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded.  At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each continuous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up to give their score – the player with the highest score wins.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

There are a couple of interesting little quirks.  Firstly, the dominoes are chosen by players in a very elegant way.  Each domino has a number on the reverse with the higher numbers roughly correlating to the more valuable ones.  At the start of the game four dominoes drawn at random are placed face up in ascending order and each player puts a coloured meeple on one of them.  These dominoes are played in ascending order, so the more valuable ones are played later.  At the beginning of round, another four dominoes are placed face up in number order creating a second row.  When a player carries out their turn, they take the domino under their meeple and add it to their kingdom and moving their meeple to the next row, choosing which domino to place it on.  In this way, players can choose a more valuable tile for the coming round but that is offset by having a later choice of tiles for the following round.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

There is also matter of the distribution of the tiles.  Some terrains types, like cornfield, are quite common with few crowns available, however others (like mountain) are very scarce, but have most have more than one crown on them.  This is quite critical because a player could build up a very large area, which fails to score because it has no crowns.  Alternatively, a couple of squares of mountain (or marsh) can score relatively highly.  This effect was critical in this game as both Burgundy and Purple built up large areas of cornfield, but Burgundy managed to add four of the five crowns available to his which gave him substantial score. He had very little else though, and Black had built up areas of sea and woodland and Purple had added several small terrains to her large cornfield.  Largely thanks to his massive cornfield, Burgundy finished with a massive forty-two, almost twice that of Black in second place.  With Kingdomino over and Burgundy and Blue’s pizzas having arrived, the group split into three, with one group playing a new game, “London Meerkats”, one group playing the pizza making card game, Mamma Mia! and the last group eating pizzas (far too serious to be a game).

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

We first played Mamma Mia! about a month ago, and it went down so well, that Red fancied giving it another go this week prior to perhaps making a little purchase herself.  The idea is that players are trying to fulfill pizza orders by first putting topping cards in the “oven” and then sneaking their order cards in on top before another player does the same and claims the toppings for their order. So, each player has a deck of personal order cards and a random hand of toppings. On their turn, each player must place at least one topping card in the oven pile (all the same type) and may follow it with an order card if they choose.  The winner is the player who manages to complete the most orders.

Mamma Mia!
– Image by boardGOATS

Red and Pine had played Mamma Mia! last time (with the Double Ingredients mini expansion) and introduced Magenta and Turquoise to it.  Unfortunately, it is a slightly strange game and some of the rules didn’t quite make it somewhere along the line, not that it mattered though and Burgundy and Blue were thoroughly entertained by some of the snippets that drifted across the room. It seemed Pine in particular had strong opinions on what should go on a pizza, “How can you have four pineapples and one mushroom on a pizza?  That’s disgusting!”  On the other hand he was clearly less revolted by chili and  pineapple commenting, “That’s a nice combination!”  In the final round with Blue and Burgundy now spectating, Pine was clearly getting frustrated at being asked for the third time whether he had a card to add to his order, as he grunted, “No, I still don’t have one; why on earth would I want pepperoni – I’m a vegetarian!”

– Image by boardGOATS

With all the fun and a close game, the winner was almost a incidental, but once again, it was the Red, the “Pizzza Queen” who managed to complete all eight orders, one more than Magenta who finished with a highly creditable seven.  With pizzas cooked and eaten it was time for the “Feature Game”, Between Two Cities with the new Capitals expansion.  We’ve played Between Two Cities quite a bit, and when the expansion was available as a pre-release at the UK Games Expo at the start of the month, it was inevitable that we’d be keen to give it a go.  That said, Pine (clearly still suffering from a surfeit of pineapple and pepperoni), commented, “Here’s where an expansion takes a good game and makes it a worse.”  So it had a lot to live up to.

– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately, Turquoise had not played the base game before, however, of all games Between Two Cities is one game where a novice can get a lot of help due to its inherent nature.  The game is very simple as players draft buildings tiles, keeping two tiles each round and passing the rest on.  The novel part of the game is that instead of adding these tiles to one’s own city, the tiles are added to two cites, one on each side, each shared with a neighbour.  The winner is the player with the “best” second city (i.e. the player with whose lowest scoring city is the strongest). This peculiarity of the scoring means players are trying to balance their two cities and ensure the buildings they require a complementary.  The semi-cooperative nature meant that Red and Burgundy could help out Turquoise, and in fact, everyone could help eachother dealing with the complications of the expansion.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

There are three components to the Capitals expansion.  Firstly, each city now starts with a three-by-three starting tile with some pre-filled spaces and others that can  be filled by players.  This adds a tweak to the start of the round that we all agreed we liked, as well as making the game slightly longer as the cities occupied a slightly larger space.  The other two modules were slightly more controversial.  The new tile type, Civic buildings, might have been more popular if the icons hadn’t been so small that they were almost impossible to see in the slightly subdued lighting in the pub (which was worse than normal due to a blown bulb in exactly the wrong place).  Even those who could see them well though, were playing them in a very negative way.  These tiles give three points if placed near one specific type and six if next to two specific types, but one if not adjacent to either or if adjacent to a third specific type.  Unfortunately, the icons were too small to distinguish for anyone over about twenty.  Finally, there were district awards given to the largest districts i.e. contiguous areas of a pair of tile types.  Most people ignored these, largely due to the fact they were concentrating on trying to work out what to do with the Civic buildings.

Between Two Cities: Capitals
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the nicest parts of the Capitals expansion is that it includes a list of all the wooden monument meeples with their names, allowing players to identify better with their two structures.  Burgundy and Turquoise filled their shared city, the “Red Pagoda”, with lots of houses, parks and shops.  Since Burgundy was struggling to see the Civic buildings they completely eschewed them in favour of factories which they mostly managed to avoid placing next to any houses.  On Turquoise’s other side was the “World War Monument”, shared with Magenta.  This city scored less well, partly because it was competing with the “Red Pagoda” for park and factory tiles.  Magenta’s second city didn’t do much better, though at least it wasn’t in competition with her first city.  Sharing with Pine, the “Rialto Bridge” city combined offices with leisure and housing.

– Image by boardGOATS

Pine’s second city, the “Sydney Harbour Bridge” was shared with Red, and the profile almost exactly mirrored his first city.  It scored much better though partly thanks to the addition of a few Civic buildings and a couple of extra leisure facilities.  Red’s second city, “St. Basil’s Basilica” was shared with Blue and also featured several Civic buildings (as did Blue’s other city, well, someone was going to end up with them).  Despite completely missing out on shops which dented its housing score, “St. Basil’s” still scored quite well due to a lot of houses and parks.  The final city, the “Geekway to the West”, was shared by Blue and Burgundy and featured lots of shops, leisure buildings and houses as well as the Civic buildings, scoring well.

Between Two Cities: Capitals
– Image by boardGOATS

All the scores were a little moot, however, as the District Bonus scores were still to be allocated.  Only Blue had really paid attention to these at the start, and she had infected Burgundy and Red who she had been sharing cities with.  It was perhaps no surprise then that the “Red Pagoda”, the “Sydney Harbour Bridge”, the “Geekway to the West” and “St. Basil’s Basilica” all picked up bonus points which put them in first, second third and fourth place respectively.  That still left the winner to determine.  Blue, Burgundy and Red all had an interest in two of the top four cities.  Burgundy participated in the first and third placed cities giving him first place, and Red and Blue shared “St. Basil’s Basilica” in fourth so Red took second place on the tie-break.

Between Two Cities: Capitals
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, the next table had been playing London Markets (or “London Meerkats” as we  have taken to calling it).  This game was released at Essen last year following a KickStarter fund-raiser and is a re-themed revision of Dschunke, which was originally nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2002.  Green, Black and Purple had tried to play it at Didcot once before, but the set up and rules explanation had taken so long that they had only managed a few opening rounds before running out of time.  This meant they were all keen to try it properly, especially as it seemed to have an interesting and unusual mechanic.  In this, they were joined by Ivory who is always keen to try something new, especially the slightly more complex games.  Although “London Meerkats” is not actually that complicated, being a little different it takes a bit of time to understand how the components fit together.  At its heart, “London Meerkats” is an auction game, where players use goods to make a concealed bid for one of four options with the ultimate aim of having the most money at the end of the game.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

In general, there are four items available in each auction, usually three giving a monetary reward and the fourth providing a special power card.  In a four player game, it is possible that each player bids for a different option and everyone moves onto the next round happy.  More often than not though, more than one person bids for one of the options, in which case at least one person is going to be disappointed and not just because they didn’t win, but also because all bids, even losing bids, go to the bank.  Worse, in the case of a tie, the winnings are split and rounded down, so when this is not possible, again, everyone involved comes out with nothing.  If there are items than nobody bid for, these are auctioned again, but it is even more risky this time as there are the same number of participants, but fewer targets.  They are also the items nobody bid for at the first attempt, so may be less desirable, leaving players with another difficult decision.  The interesting part of the game is how players acquire the goods to use in the bidding in the second part of the round.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

The first part of each round is played on the board featuring London and five of her markets, Brixton, Borough, Portabello, Covent Garden and Petticoat Lane.  Each market exclusively provides textiles, soaps, coffee, porcelain apart from the last one which provides access to one of the others.  There are also three merchants who each start at one of the markets and two assistants who occupy locations on the banks of the river.  Players start by taking it in turns to select a merchant or one of the assistants and activating them, turning the token over so that only one person can carry out each action per round.  The merchants allow players to stack goods crates of their own colour in the market, collect goods cards (which are used for bidding) or collect money from the bank.  The latter number of cards or the amount of money depends on the number of crates visible when the action is used.  Since crates come in bars and are stacked, the number of crates visible changes throughout the game.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

The merchants carry out the activity in the market they are in, whereas players who activate the the assistants can choose which of the two markets to carryout the action in with the action dictated by the assistant’s position on its riverside path.  Once everyone has carried out an action in the London Markets, players get two extra cards of their choice (or more if they have the right power cards) before the auction phase.  With almost everyone having recently played it (or at least a bit of it), the group relied largely on memory, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake, as part way through the game it became apparent that people had mis-remembered the rules in a number of small ways, which did distort the game in very unhelpful manner.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

Black began by targeting the auctions for bonus cards, with Ivory going for the high value coffee, Green for low value cloth while Purple cornered the market in cheap lavender soap.  As the first few rounds went on, Ivory continued to pursue coffee and added a bonus card strategy too, claiming several extra pounds for having crates in a multiple markets. Green continued to do well in the auctions, Purple too, but with the lower value goods. Black seemed to miss out several times.  In round three, the first mistake reared its ugly head.  At several intervals during the game, there is an extra mini-action, the first of which is during round three.  We assumed the person who chose the first assistant would also get a bonus card on top of his action which Ivory used to great advantage. It was only after the half way mark that we realised the symbol on the board actually meant that everyone gets a bonus card that round.  Unable to fix this retrospectively with only one bonus card marker left we chose to continue as before. This would mean that Purple got the chance first and only Green didn’t get the bonus.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

After round four, that we realised our second mistake. The two assistant actions are only supposed to be used in the two unoccupied markets, but we had played them as being available in all.  Since the first player marker had made one full rotation, we felt it had been fair and playing that rule properly hereafter would not penalise anyone unduly.  The game continued, Black managed to get the tie-breaker bonus card, meaning he would win any tied auctions and Ivory began to use his bonus cards to good effect.  Green was switching his auction goods quite well, winning several at high and low values, while Purple often found herself taking the short straw, losing a few.  By the half way money check mark, it was all very close with Green narrowly in the lead with £21 just £1 ahead of Ivory had £20 and Black and Purple just behind.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

In the second half of the game, Black was finally able to start making good on his tie breaker, often to the demise of Green and Purple. Ivory was also able to really start building his position as he could now take four cards before each auction and exchange two more, meaning he could acquire a set of six of any type under almost any circumstances. It was about this that the third big mistake became apparent – some of the bonus cards could be held and cashed in later rather than having to be used as an immediate cash injection.  This meant players could work to get crates positioned in the appropriate market before cashing in a card, which would have helped those floundering quite a bit.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

By about three quarters of the way through, it was obvious who the winner would be because he was raking in the cash and everyone else barely got a look-in.  Black had had a better second half, nearly doubling his score, while Green and Purple struggled, although Green fared worse of all as he barely managed a third of what he had taken in the first part of the game.  It was Ivory though that finished with £56, nearly £20 clear of Black in second, a huge margin of victory in what had seemed like a close game at half-time.  It was clear that the incorrect rules had a big impact on the outcome though, and as a result, and as we played it, it really meant that gaining an advantage would result in a increasing circle of benefit so maybe another try is in order, with all the correct rules.

London Markets
– Image by boardGOATS

Since “London Meerkats” finished before Between Two Cities, Purple and Black fancied another go at Kingdomino, this time with four players and Ivory and Green instead of Burgundy as the opposition.  There are also a couple of variants, in particular the option of adding a ten point bonus for finishing with the castle in the centre of the five-by-five grid as well as a five point bonus for players who successfully add all twelve dominos to their kingdom, so for a little variety, these were added to the final scoring.  This time Black’s Kingdom started out with a lot of woodland as he struggled to get anything very much, but kept his options open and managed to work in some other regions and get them scoring. He also managed to get his Castle in the middle and complete the whole set for a full fifteen point bonus.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Green started out with cornfields and meadows, soon adding woodland, swamp and water.  Although he kept it tidy with the castle in the middle, he was left with a terrible final double swamp tile that he just couldn’t place.  Purple was trying to play for the high value swamp and mountain tiles, but failed to maintain her five-by-five grid. She had misunderstood the rules and thought that she would score the bonus as long as the castle was surrounded by tiles. In the end her regions were generally small, but with lots of crowns.  Ivory, the “London Meerkats” Meister, went for a wet kingdom and produced a massive scoring lake and a couple of other regions, got his castle in the middle and completed the grid for a full set of bonuses and his second win of the evening.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

With time getting on and people beginning to leave, there was just still time for another game and with Burgundy, Blue and Pine left, Splendor was always a likely target.  Burgundy had had an unbeaten Tuesday night run since January 2015 – well over two years and at least eight games, during which time both Pine and Blue had made several attempts to beat him.  The game is a simple one of chip  collecting and engine-building with a very loose gemstone theme.  Basically, on their turn, players can take gemstone poker chips, or use chips to buy a card.  Some cards have points on them and all can be used like the poker chips to buy cards (but without having to return them).  The cards also give players access to “Noble tiles” which also give points.  The winner is the player with the most points after someone reaches fifteen points.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

This time the nobles required three each of sapphire, opal and diamond; three each of sapphire, emerald and diamond; three each of sapphire, emerald and ruby; and four each of diamond and opal.  Pine started, but Burgundy was quick out of the traps, collecting diamond cards as there were a lot about at the start and they featured on three of the four Noble cards.  Blue followed quickly and went for sapphire cards as they were also strongly represented on the Noble tiles.  Pine was a little slower, but not far behind picking up opal cards.  Burgundy was first to take a Noble taking the sapphire, emerald and diamond Noble, just beating Blue to it.  He was working on the sapphire, emerald and ruby Noble, but Blue had her eye on that and it with both layers having three sapphire and three emerald cards, it was all down to who would be first to get three ruby cards.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

It was neck-a-neck, and it was Blue’s turn.  She only needed the one ruby card and there was one in the display,but unfortunately, although Burgundy could afford it, she couldn’t.  Grudgingly, she reserved the card for herself, hoping that she wouldn’t turn over another ruby card.  Sadly, she did reveal a ruby card, and since Burgundy loads of cards and lots of chips, he could afford it.  It was Pine’s turn first though and he could also afford the ruby card so he decided to add it to his tableau.  It was with bated breath that Pine reveled the replacement card.  Unfortunately for Burgundy it was not a ruby card which left the road open for Blue to take the Noble on her next turn.  It wasn’t all over though, there were two Nobles still available, and Burgundy went for the next one, however, Pine had other ideas and took both in quick succession.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

During the game, both Blue and Burgundy had been picking up a few point bearing cards, however, Blue also had two high scoring cards reserved and was looking to play one of these, a four point card requiring seven sapphires.  Knowing Blue’s habit of spotting what other players want and reserving it to obstruct them, Burgundy reserved a four point level three card that he could play next turn.  Unfortunately for him, this revealed a five point card that Blue could afford.  As the last player in the round, taking the card gave her fifteen points which immediately ended the game, and with it, Burgundy’s unbeaten run, finally.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

There was still time for a quick game of that “nasty card game”, 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!.  This game is very simple:  there are three rows of cards (zero to thirty, thirty to sixty and sixty to ninety) and on their turn, the active player chooses a numbered card and adds it to the appropriate row.  If there are five cards in the row the active player must pick up cards: if the card added is the highest card in the row, the active player takes the card with the lowest number, otherwise they take all cards higher than the card added by the active player.  The cards all have a colour as well as a number, and the aim of the game is to get as close as possible to two of each colour, while three is one too many…

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

About half way through the game, Pine asked whether the card marker was included in the five cards.  This prompted a quick rules check with the inevitable discovery that we had been playing it wrong.  We finished the game with our rules and although nobody managed a full set of seven cards, Blue and Pine both managed very creditable scores, with Blue five points clear.  Since the game is reasonably quick and we all wanted to know what difference the rules change made, we gave the game a second go.  We all felt it was different this time and maybe a little less prone to catastrophic card collections, not that that helped Burgundy.  For the second game on the trot he scored just seven, while Blue and Pine scored more but were even closer this time with Blue taking the second win, by just one point.

3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Games are generally better when everyone plays by the same rules, ideally the right ones…!

UK Games Expo 2017

Last weekend, 2nd-4th June, gamers once converged on Birmingham for three days of fun and games for UK Games Expo.  Whereas Essen, is primarily a trade fair so is all about the business surrounding games with lots of buying and selling, Expo focusses on gamers playing games and includes Euro Games as well as lost of role playing games, miniatures games, and war games.  In addition to tournaments there is lots of “open gaming” space and demonstration events for new designs.  There are lots of activities specially designed for kids in the “Family Zone” as well as a trade fair with all the latest games for their parents and seminars presented by industry experts, panels and celebrity guests.

Dice
– Image by boardGOATS

This is the eleventh year of Expo and the event gets ever larger.  Like last year, there were activities in both the NEC and the  NEC Hilton Metropole, though this year it spread into Hall Three at the NEC as well as taking over the whole of Hall One with the food fair outside.  The focus of Expo is on playing games rather than marketing, so there are generally fewer new releases available than at some of the other conventions.  The trade fair is growing though and as a result there were more new games available this year than previously, including The Cousins’ War (a two player game from Surprised Stare Games); Santo Domingo (a new light card game in the style of Port Royal) and Capitals, the new expansion to one of our favourite games, Between Two Cities.  There were also demonstrations and play-testing of of some exciting pre-release games including the new Splendor Expansion and the upcoming stand-alone Snowdonia variant, “A Nice Cup of Tea”.

UK Games Expo
– Image by boardGOATS

A number of GOATS went to play and make purchases with some taking time off work to go on the slightly quieter Friday, while others braved the hoards over the weekend.  A fun time was had by all and it will no-doubt be a topic of conversation next week. when we will surely play some of the new acquisitions.

UK Games Expo
– Image by boardGOATS

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 knows 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.