Tag Archives: Black Fleet

Boardgames in the News: What is Asmodee’s Grand Plan?

Four years ago, Eurazeo bought a small French games company called Asmodee from the investment firm, Montefiore.  Asmodee were a small company hitherto primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble.  With the financial might of their parent company behind them, over the next few years, Asmodee proceeded to gobble up many larger, well-established companies, including Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games and most recently, Lookout Spiele.  Those companies produced some of the best known modern games including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola and Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.  Not content with that, they also acquired the rights to the English language version of the Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and all the related Catan games as well as gobbling up a number of smaller and/or newer companies like Space Cowboys (producers of Splendor and Black Fleet) and Plaid Hat Games (producers of Dead of Winter and Mice and Mystics) and entering into a distribution agreement with many others.  There are now very few games companies of any substance that are not somehow tangled in the Asmodee web.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

The last major purchase was F2Z Entertainment in 2016, and since then it has been relatively quiet.  With the new year comes a new wave of acquisition, however, so at the end of January Asmodee announced that they were in exclusive negotiations with Rebel.  Rebel is a relatively small, Polish company responsible for games like K2 as well as Polish editions of many popular games like 7 Wonders and Codenames.  Perhaps more importantly, Rebel also produces the Polish language versions of many of the Asmodee games and is the largest distributor in Poland.  And Poland is a big country, smaller than France or Germany, but bigger than Italy and the UK,  globally Poland is the thirty-forth largest country by population.  That is a lot of Poles and they do like playing board games in Poland.

K2
– Image used with permission
of boardgamephotos

This announcement was almost immediately followed by the bombshell that Asmodee had acquired all the residual assets from Mayfair and with it, Lookout Spiele. Although this is by far the largest deal in recent months, Asmodee have not been resting on their laurels and there has been a lot going on behind the scenes.  In December last year they announced that Esdevium was to be renamedAsmodee UK” bringing them in line with the “Asmodee North America” and “Asmodee Canada” brands.  At around the same time, Eurazeo announced that French publisher Purple Brain Créations would be joining the Asmodee Group.  Furthermore, they have also been streamlining their distribution network in North America.  Having reduced the number of distributors they deal with to five in 2015, in June last year Asmodee North America announced an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors, effectively creating a monopoly of supply within the USA.  This coupled with their Minimum Advertised Price policy (or MAP) gives them a stranglehold on the US market in a way that would never be allowed in Europe.  Whether they are planning to take that one step further and acquire Alliance themselves still remains to be seen, but that looks like a real possibility.  Finally, they have been pushing in a new direction, developing electronic versions of some of the most popular games through their studio, “Asmodee Digital“.

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

So what is Asmodee‘s Grand Plan?  Where will it all end?  Well, there are still a couple of other large manufacturers out there that are not yet part of Asmodee.  Looking at the companies they have already absorbed there is a clear trend: they typically have one particular feature that Asmodee are interested in.  In the case of Days of Wonder, that was the Ticket to Ride series, with Z-man Games it was Pandemic and Carcassonne, and with Rebel, it was probably their distribution network that caught the eye of the executives at Asmodee.  Going forward, the most obvious targets are probably Rio Grande Games, Czech Games EditionQueen GamesHans im Glük and maybe 2F, or Pegasus Spiele (who have just announced a partnership with Frosted Games).  For example, it would be surprising if Rio Grande Games have not been approached given the popularity of games like Dominion and Race/Roll for the Galaxy.  Similarly, Czech Games Edition are a small company with some very juicy morsels including Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords/Petz, and the hugely successful Spiel des Jahres winner, Codenames.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately they may or may not add some or all of these to the Greater Asmodee Empire, but it is clear that at some point, eventually, there will be nothing left worth taking over and growth of the company will plateau, so what happens then?  And this is the crux of the matter. Some have speculated that the aim is to add Hasbro to Asmodee’s ever growing dominion, but Hasbro has a market value of $11.9 billion—Asmodee are mere minnows in comparison.  On the other hand, the parent company, Eurazeo are worth approximately $5.7 billion, which at least puts them in the same ball park, although even they are small by comparison.  According to the “Vision” page on the Eurazeo website:

The purpose of Eurazeo is to identify, accelerate and enhance the transformation potential of the companies in which it invests, even long after its exit. An active and committed shareholder, Eurazeo assists its holdings in the long term – 5 to 7 years – with control over exit timing. An extensive role enabling it to combine business development and corporate social responsibility.

So, it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?  With this in mind it seems unlikely that acquiring Hasbro is on the agenda, but making Asmodee attractive to Hasbro just might be…

Hasbro
– Image from twitter.com

31st December 2017

Green and Burgundy were the first to arrive, and were stood on the doorstep at 7pm on the dot.  This was possibly just because they were punctual, but may have been because they knew the first people to arrive would get the chance to set up the track for the evening’s “Feature Game”, the gorgeous, dexterity car-racing game, PitchCar.  Everyone had played it before except Azure, so he had a quick run of the track while Blue put out snacks and Pink sorted everyone out with drinks.  Like last year, Green and Burgundy designed a single, long, winding path with the idea being that it was a simple sprint to the finish rather than several circuits.

PitchCar Track 31/12/14
– Image by boardGOATS

Building the track is always a challenge, but Green and Burgundy had decided to maximise the difficulty by trying to use every piece of expansion in the box, including both crosses and the new double jump.  This made the track really quite complex, featuring a wide bridge/tunnel and a couple of jumps (for those brave enough to give them a go).  Rather than the usual “flying lap” to see who starts, each player had a single flick with the longest going first.  Blue took pole, but didn’t make it as far on her second attempt and within a few turns was in the lower half of the placings.  Similarly, Purple who had started second on the grid quickly began to move backwards too.  In contrast, Pink and Green who had started at the back of the grid, began a rapid rise through the field.  There were some really spectacular flicks, some that were successful, others that were almost successful, and a few that were horrific failures and received suitable opprobrium.

PitchCar
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The final bridge proved to be one of the greatest sticking points though as it was built from pieces that weren’t really intended to be used in that way, making joins quite difficult to traverse.  Blue, who had gone from the front to the back and back to the front, was the first to get stuck, but was forced to watch as Pine cruised past her showing her how to do it.  She proved a slow learner, however, as Green and Pink followed a couple of rounds later, while she struggled to make it over the step.  With the bridge so close to the finishing line, it turned out to be the discriminating factor in the race, and Pine finished the clear winner, with Green finishing a short nose ahead of Pink.  Meanwhile, the rest of the field passed Blue who by now had finally made it onto the bridge, but who seemed to have run out of fuel and limped home in last place, a couple of flicks behind Burgundy, who had been convinced no-one would be challenging him for the wooden spoon.

PitchCar
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

While everyone else participated in the game of cooperative Tetris that is packing the track back into its case, Blue put the finishing touches to the supper of Cheesy Pasta Bake with fresh vegetables and a side order of Christmas trimmings.  These included “Pigs in Blankets” (or rather “Boars in Duvets”), “Devils on Horseback” and home made crackers that went off spectacularly and sent a shower of tiny pieces all over the room. With food finished, there was a quick game of “Musical Chairs” before everyone settled into two groups for the next round of games.  The first group, Green, Pine, Purple and Burgundy, fancied a bit of piratin’ and went for Black Fleet, a fairly simple, but thematic game.  The idea is that each player has a fleet consisting of a Merchant ship and a Pirate ship; there are also two Naval ships which players also control.  So, on their turn, players choose one action card which enables them to move their two ships round the archipelago depicted on the large and sumptuous board.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Before, during or after moving, ships can carry out an action.  Merchant ships can can load or sell goods at an appropriate port, while Pirate ships may attack an opposing Merchant vessel in a neighbouring space and steal one cube of cargo (earning two Doubloons for its trouble) or bury some cargo they’ve stolen.  Ships can only carryout one action on their turn, so Pirates can only steal or bury on their turn, not both.  And they must avoid the Navy frigates as they do it because they can sink Pirate ships (also earning two Doubloons).  In addition to the Action cards, players can also play as many fortune cards as they like; these break the other rules of the game and and make play a little more unpredictable.  Finally, there are the Development cards, which both give players extra powers and act as the game timer, with the game finishing when one player has paid to activate all their Development cards.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There was much piratin’, tradin’ and policin’ of the ocean waves. Purple was an unfortunate early target simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Green tried to target Burgundy, but a wily Merchant, he maintained his distance. Initially a lot of action took place on the western side of the board, and while Green began to bring in the money, Pine and Purple struggled to gain traction. Green was the first to activate a Development card, but he was followed by Burgundy on the next turn. By now Purple and Pine were complaining loudly that they were being picked upon, but that’s the trouble with this game, it tends to reward the leaders. Green and Burgundy activated their second cards in the same turn, but Green’s was of a higher value, meaning that he then activated his third card (the one with the lowest value) the following turn.

Black Fleet
– Image by BGG contributor spielemitkinder

By now the action had shifted to the east, Purple and Pine had finally managed to earn enough to activate a card, but by this time they were so far behind their chances of winning were almost zero and so their tactics changed to “get Green and Burgundy”. Unfortunately for Burgundy his ships were closer to Purple and Pine than Green’s were so he bore the brunt of their attack. His merchant ship was attacked and raided by both their pirates in the same turn and his path was blocked. Burgundy abandoned his plans to move it and opted to becalm his ship instead taking compensation for his lack of movement.  Green and Burgundy activated their fourth cards in the same turn, but Green had eight Doubloons left while Burgundy only had two. The next turn played out as expected with Green landing a load, activating his final card with four Doubloons left. Burgundy could gain nothing on his final turn, so couldn’t activate his final Development card. Unfortunately, the reward mechanism of gives bonuses to those who activate their Development cards first, which often leads to a runaway winner that the others are unable to catch.  That said, it is a fun game and doesn’t last overlong, so is a good game when players are in the mood.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor The_Blue_Meeple

Meanwhile on the nearby table Black, Pink, Blue and Azure we trying out a new game, Sagrada.  This is a relatively new game, that we’ve only played once in the group before, as part of a “Monster Games” session some months ago.  A bit like Terraforming Mars, it is a game that has proved very popular, but was produced by a very small company who did not have the infrastructure or commercial clout to satisfy the demand which vastly exceeded expectation.  In the case of Sagrada, however, the game is one of those games with simple rules, but lots of complexity.  Players build a stained glass window by building up a grid of dice on their player board. Each board has some restrictions on which colour or shade (value) of die can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to rearrange some of the dice, either during “drafting”, or sometimes those already in their window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.  Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window.  The public objectives are much more complex though.  In this case, the three objectives were:  six points for every row with all five colours; two points for every pair of dice showing one and two; four points for every set of five different colours in the final window.  Black quickly spotted the synergy between two of the objectives, noting that each row that contained all five different colours would score a massive ten points.  Meanwhile,  Blue had drawn starting grid cards that were very challenging and was forced to make the best of it, and Pink and Azure, struggled to get to grips what they could and couldn’t do.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each round, players draw two dice from the pool in “Settlers starting order” (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2, 1).  This was something we really struggled with for no very good reason, and things weren’t helped by Blue who got herself into a mess, aggravated by the fact that she kept knocking the dice in her window with her sleeve.  Through it all, Black sailed serenely, finishing with a perfect set of five rows, each with five different coloured dice giving him a massive starting score of fifty which he went on to top up to a final total of sixty three.  Nobody was going to catch him, but Azure finished in second place with a highly creditable fifty-six, some way clear of Blue and Pink.  Both games finished almost simultaneously, and just in time to toast the New Year in and admire the spectacular fireworks in the general direction of our erstwhile gaming home, The Jockey pub.

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

With the festivities over, it was time to choose our first game of 2018, and we picked Ca$h ‘n Guns.  This is a great party game, that we’ve played at the last couple of New Year parties.  This game combines gambling with a little chance and a dash of strategy, based round the theme of gangsters divvying up their ill-gotten gains by playing a sort of multi-player Russian Roulette.  Although we used some of the standees from the Expansion, this time we didn’t use the special powers and stuck to the game play of the base game.  This is very simple:  on the count of three, each player points their foam gun at one other player; the Godfather can then ask one player to change their choice before there is a second count of three giving players a chance to withdraw from the confrontation.

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

At this point, everyone still in the round who has a target who has not backed out, reveals whether they chose to load their gun with a blank or a bullet.  The game is played over eight rounds and each player starts with three bullets and five blanks, all of which cannot be reused.  Anyone who gets shot is out of the round and anyone who receives three wounds is eliminated from the game.  We were all quite cagey at the start, so the loot was shared out among the whole group.  This didn’t last of course, and it was amid much hilarity that Azure decided to brave the three guns pointed at him only to take three bullets and retire from the game.  It was a few more rounds before the next casualty expired, when Black took his third shot and gracefully slid down the curtain to join the choir invisible.  Meanwhile, Green and Blue were somewhat hampered by being repeatedly targeted, leaving Pink to collect a large pile of artwork and Purple a huge pile of diamonds.  The only real question which of the two was worth the most.

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

Despite picking up the bonus for the most jewels, giving her a total of $122,000, Purple had to settle for second place behind Pink who finished with a fortune of $175,000.  Pink, highly satisfied with his success decided to do some washing up, and Green who had to prepare a roast for the next day decided it was time for him to go to leave.  Nobody else wanted to go though, so it was only a question of what we would play.  It was gone 1am, and nobody was in the mood for anything deep, so we decided it was a good time to introduce Azure to 6 Nimmt!, one of our favourite light, filller games.  A very simple “Cards with Numbers” game, 6 Nimmt! gives players the illusion of control while everything is going well, and shatters that illusion when it all goes wrong.  We usually play the game over two rounds and it is remarkable how differently they can go.  In this case, Azure and Blue came off worst in the first round, however, Purple and Black did particularly badly in the second round, so Azure finished joint second with Burgundy, just two points behind the winner, Pine.  By this time, the rain was pouring down, but it was definitely “late”; it had been a great way to say goodbye to 2017 and welcome in 2018.

– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It is a great way to start the year, with a foam gun in hand and a group of friends to point it at.

30th June 2015

Continuing the theme from last time, food was a priority, so we didn’t get started until well after eight o’clock.  We split into two groups, the first playing Steam Donkey again as it turned out that we had played it wrong two weeks ago. This card game involves building a seaside resort consisting of a four by three grid of attraction cards.  The idea is that players build the attractions from their cards in their hand, then take passengers from the station who visit their attractions, which they then take from their tableaux to become cards in their hand.  The more popular attractions get more passengers, thus yielding more cards.  Unfortunately, it turns out that on their turn, each player can do only one of these three actions instead of all of them!  It was still a tight game though, with Burgundy and Magenta drawing for first place on fifty-two points.  As, Magenta commented though, “Playing it right is better…”

Steam Donkey
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Grey, Green, Cerise and Blue tried an older game, Gheos, which is new to the group.  When Cerise and Grey introduced it, Blue (who had played it a very long time ago) commented that all she could remember was that it was a bit like Carcassonne, but the tiles were triangular and it was a lot nastier.  In this game, players have three tiles in their hand and on their turn place one extending the play area, or replacing one of the existing tiles.  The tiles form land rivers which make islands (land comprising two small sections of land surrounded by water) and continents (larger areas of contiguous land).  Unlike Carcassonne, all the edges are the same so every tile can go anywhere, but some places are better than others of course.

Gheos
– Image by BGG contributor Gonzaga

When a player places a tile, if the continent has not already been settled, they can choose to place a settlement receiving followers equal to the total number of wheat sheaves shown on that continent.  If a player doesn’t start a new settlement, placing a tile allows the active player to recruit a single follower of their own choice.  Followers are important because they dictate how many points players get during scoring.  Everyone scores points when epoch tiles are drawn and each player has three cups tokens which they can play at the end of their turn triggering allowing them to score alone.  Epoch scoring gives players points equal to the number of pyramids on a continent multiplied by the number of followers they have for the tribe settled on that continent.  Cups tokens work in a similar way with points awarded for every follower multiplied by the number of cups on the continent, but only the active player gets to score these.

Gheos
– Image by BGG contributor Outside Lime

Since tiles can be replaced, rivers can be moved creating islands, and merging continents, creating war, causing migration and even leading to extinction (since islands are to small to sustain a tribe and continents can only support one tribe).  This is what makes the game nasty since a players’ followers are immediately lost.  The complexity of the rules associated with migration and war coupled with the different triggers for scoring meant that it took Blue and Green a while to get their heads round it.  Despite Cerise’s protestations, she showed them the way to score taking an early lead.  Grey’s experience showed in the latter stages, however, giving him the first place, eight points ahead of Blue in second.

Gheos
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor KSensei

Green had been desperate to play his new game, Fresco, so had agreed to play Gheos with Grey on the condition that he would play Fresco next.  This is a game where players are master painters working to restore a fresco in a Renaissance church.  Each round begins with players deciding what time they would like to wake up for the day. The earlier they wake up, the earlier they are in turn order, and the better options they get.  However, if they waking up early too often, the apprentices become unhappy and stop working as efficiently. Players then decide their actions for the turn, deploying their apprentice work force to the various tasks:  buying paint, mixing paint, working on the fresco, raising money to buy paint by painting portraits, and even going to to the opera to increase the apprentices’ happiness and inspire them. Points are scored mostly by painting the fresco, which requires specific combinations of paints.  For this reason, players must purchase and mix their paints carefully and beat the other players to the store to buy the pigments and fresco segments they would like to paint.

Fresco
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

As a new game, that claimed to take an hour, it was clear it was not going to be quick, so Blue decided to help things along by reducing the number of players and joined the other group to play something shorter before Magenta had to leave.  Although Fresco  was not difficult to explain the other group had nearly finished their first game before play actually started.  With only three market stalls in the three player game and a possible three actions in each section for each player, the game very quickly fell into a routine where the earliest player went to the market to buy paint, with each assistant closing the stall afterwards. This left the other two players painting portraits for money and visiting the theatre to enhance their mood. This rotated around as the paint buying player completed retouching the fresco for tile points and thus pushing into the lead on the score track and moving down the order to choose when to get up.  This did not feel right and the consensus was that maybe the three player game was broken and it needed a fourth player to work. Nevertheless, in a game that nobody had played before, Cerise made it her own, winning by nearly twenty points.

Fresco
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Meanwhile, the other group were playing another new title, confusingly called The Game, which is a cooperative card game nominated for Spiel des Jahres this year.  In this game, players have a hand of five cards from a deck containing cards numbered two to ninety-nine and there are four piles: two starting at 100 and decreasing, two starting at one and increasing.  On their turn, players must play at least two cards and can play more as long as they obey the basic rules.  The cards can be played on any pile so long as it is lower in number than the top card of a decreasing pile or higher than the top card on the increasing pile.  Alternatively, if the card is exactly ten more or less than the the top card on the pile, the “backwards rule” can be invoked and the pile can be pushed back.  The aim of the game is to place all cards on the four piles and it is much more difficult than it seems.  The Game is often compared with Hanabi because it is a cooperative card game, however, the game play and the atmosphere it is played in are very different. In Hanabi, the best games are played in near silence where everyone is trying desperately not to give away any unintended information.  In The Game, players can say anything they like, so long as they don’t give away any specific number information.  This makes it much more chatty, though it took us a while to work out what was useful information and we only got about halfway through the deck before Magenta was unable to play a card.  Clearly one to try again to see if we can do better.

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

Fresco had only just started, so down to four players, Black Fleet came out for another outing.  This is a beautiful over-produced game that we played a few weeks ago, where each player has a merchant ship which they use to collect goods from one port and take to another port earning money.  However, each player also has a pirate ship which they can use to take goods from the merchants.  This also earns players money, but they must beware of the navy vessels which every player can manipulate to sink pirates and use to try to protect their merchants.   On their turn, the active player plays one card which moves both of their ships and one of the navy ships, during which, each ship may perform one action.  The idea of the game is that players can also play fortune cards which modify their actions and also use their money to buy  advancement cards which change the rules of the game, sometimes dramatically.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor The_Blue_Meeple

This time, Black got his nose in front buying the first advancement card, but it wasn’t long before Blue and Burgundy caught up.  While Purple was struggling to get anything and kept falling victim to everyone else, Blue moved into the lead with her very effective use of her False Colours and Secret Plans advancement combo (which together allowed her to swap her pirate with one of the navy ships and then earn four doubloons for attacking a merchant).  Burgundy pushed hard with his Delivery Bonus and judicious use of the Pirate Hideout (which allowed him to move his pirate more unpredictably), but could not get enough money to buy his last card leaving Blue to win.  Despite being the first to buy advancement cards, Black finished last as his cards felt relatively under-powered.  So maybe next time, now we all know how to play, we’ll try drafting the cards at the start.  That way there is less chance of one player getting more than their share of the best cards,

Black Fleet
– Image by BGG contributor lacxox

Fresco had finished first, and Green moved over to watch the last moves of Black Fleet, commenting sadly on how the game was broken with three players, which elicited the automatic response of, “Have you checked the rules?”  Whenever anyone online says a game is “broken” that is always the response and it often turns out that they weren’t playing right.  So despite his protestations that they had played correctly, while the last ships were being sunk, Green double checked and found what was wrong. Each player may have three assistants visit the market stalls, but they all visit the same stall and buy one tile, rather than buy one tile from each stall. Thus there will always be a stall open for each player.  This made a lot more sense and will really open the game up for those difficult decisions of timing and tasks. The rules check also brought to light an error in the way the bishop moves:  he was supposed to jump to the retouched or claimed tile each time rather than just staying put.  Although that was a much more minor mistake it was enough to make the choosing of tiles less interesting.  Another game to play again, and correctly this time!

Fresco
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Learning Outcome:  Games are better when played according to the rules…

21st April 2015

While Blue attacked her pizza, Red, Green, Burgundy, Black and Purple attacked a quick game of Coloretto.  This is a great little little set collecting game that forms the basis of the well-known boardgame, Zooloretto.  The idea of Coloretto is that players take it in turns to either draw a chameleon card and place it on a truck, or take a truck (after which they are out for the rest of the round).  Each truck can hold a maximum of three chameleons and the round continues until every player has taken a truck.  The chameleon cards come in seven different colours and players are collecting sets which score according to the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.).

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

The clever part is that each player can only score three sets as positive, all the others are negative, and the highest score wins.  Thus, there is an element of push your luck and players can make life difficult for each other by putting cards a cards someone wants with cards they don’t want.  As usual, the game came down to a choice between taking the one or two safe wanted cards and waiting to see if a useful third card might be added to the set.  With a five player game, however, there was always a high risk that someone else would take it, so Burgundy started off very cautiously and managed to quickly collect a lot of red chameleons and a few two point bonus cards making him the obvious front-runner.  Green had also started out going for reds, but quickly realised he would have to broaden his horizons.  Meanwhile, Red, who was new to the game began to realise what cards people might want and how to cause them problems.  It was purple however, who finished with her nose in front with final total of thirty-one, thanks to the large number of cards she had managed to accrue.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although Zooloretto is a more popular game (possibly helped by its cute animal theme), it is arguable that Coloretto is actually a better one.  In Zooloretto, players are building a zoo and instead of simply collecting sets of cards, they are collecting sets of animal tiles and have to place them in pens.  If you can’t place an animal, then it goes into the barn, where others can buy it or, if there space becomes available, it can be recovered and placed in a pen.  The light nature of the game and cute animals make Zooloretto very accessible for families, but there are more bits and it does take longer to play.  There is no question that the tile/card drawing and truck choosing mechanism is very clever and integrates well with the zoo theme, however, Coloretto is a simpler, “purer” game, which is short enough that it doesn’t risk outstaying its welcome.

Zooloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

With the arrival of Grey, and Blue finally finishing her pizza, we decided to split into two groups.  The first played the “Feature Game”, Black Fleet.  This was one of the games brought back from Essen last year and is a beautiful game involving skulduggery on the high seas.  The game is very simple.  Each player commands a merchant vessel and a pirate ship.  Players also have a hand of two “movement” cards and on their turn choose one to play.  Each of these cards has movement values the player’s merchant and pirate ships, but also allows them to move one of the Navy frigates.  As the ships move they can carry out various actions.  For example, before, during, or after its movement, a player can sell their cargo at the indicated price (two or three doubloons per goods cube) at the port if their merchant is in a space adjacent to it.  Alternatively, pirates can steal treasure or bury it safely on an island.  Once per turn, players can spend their gold to activate their bonus cards.  These are cards that are dealt out at the start of the game and once activated, remain active for the rest of the game with the player that has activated all their bonus cards winning.  In the event that more than one player succeeds in activating their bonus cards, then ties are broken by the amount of gold held at the end.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor The_Blue_Meeple

After a short rules explanation, we set our ships afloat, each hoping to get to another port to trade our valuable cubes.  It wasn’t long before the first pirate came relieved a merchant ship of one their goods cubes.  Then, the gloves were off and the game became one of attack and counter attack.  With four pirate ships sailing the seas it was rare that anyone managed to dock into port with any more than two cubes, and sometimes they only had one to sell.  However the two navy ships mostly kept the pirates from burying their loot.  Very soon players were paying for their bonus cards and beefing up their attack or trading capabilities.  Purple was heading down the trading route,  but misreading her cheapest bonus card, she left that to one side and plugged away at getting her more expensive ones.  On a sea so full of marauding pirates (and the occasional back-stabbing navy ship and ruthless merchant), this proved to be a difficult strategy to make work.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Grey was trying a more balanced strategy, while Green and Burgundy were making their fleets the menace of the seas.  The game seemed well balanced between Green, Burgundy and Grey until Burgundy turned over his penultimate bonus card and it became clear that he would earn enough on his next turn pay for his last card and finish the game.  Green and Grey did what they could to attack Burgundy to prevent this from happening while also trying to turn over their last cards.  Burgundy duly paid for his final card ending the game and giving Green and Grey one last turn.  Green was able to turn one card over, however, although that would not be enough to tie with Burgundy, it would be enough to tie with Grey if Grey could be prevented from turning over his last card.  Thus, Green abandoned his plans and instead in a ruthless pirate like manner turned the tables on Grey.  This left Grey unable to pay for his final card and with less money remaining than Green, he finished in third place behind Burgundy and Green. As it turned out Grey would not have been able to buy his final card anyhow, which made Green’s last move look particularly vicious, but then if you insist in playing with a poker face, that’s what you get!

Black Fleet
– Image by BGG contributor spielemitkinder

Although none of the players had played it before, on discussion with Blue and Black after the game, it is clear that Black Fleet is a much better game with four than three and everyone was keen to play it again.  However, there was much discussion about the balance of the cards:  since the bonus cards are drawn at random, some combinations end up being well balanced while others are less synergistic.  For example, in this game, the cards definitely made it much harder for Purple to win, but easier for Green.  We’ll have to play it again to see if this is something which detracts from the game, or makes it more of challenge!

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Meanwhile, Black, Red and Blue tried out a game that was new to the group, K2.  This is a fairly straight forward hand management game, that can get quite brutal as players find the route up the mountain increasingly challenging.  The idea is that each player has two climbers, two tents and a hand of cards.  Simultaneously, everyone chooses which cards they are going to play and then players take it in turns to move their climbers up the mountain.  There are two possible routes which are slightly different lengths and  difficulties.

K2
– Image by BGG contributor Oskarete

Some cards enable players to move along the paths and others help them to increase their levels of acclimatisation.  The acclimatisation cards are essential, because going higher up the mountain, saps your energy.  The weather also plays its part, both making it more difficult to climb and reducing players’ acclimatisation and if a climber’s acclimatisation drops to zero, they die.  As inevitable when playing a new game, an important rule got missed out – in this case, we didn’t realise until we were more than half way through the game that the weather only affected certain parts of the mountain, thus we made it much more difficult for ourselves.  The winner is the player who’s climbers get the furthest up the mountain without dying.

K2
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Blue took the slightly harder eastern ridge while Black and Red took the western pass.  Fortunately, Black started off trying to get one climber to the top, leaving the other safe at the bottom, which meant the western pass didn’t get too congested.  Red and Blue tried to get the two climbers to help each other, but quickly realised the wisdom of Black’s approach as their climbers suffered from exposure, especially Blue’s on the exposed ridge.  Black’s first climber made it to the top, only to find his way down blocked by Red.  This turned out to be fatal as the extreme effort proved too much.  By this time, Blue’s first climber had realised she was in difficulty and headed back to the foothills, just making it in time thanks to a lull in the weather.  Red had also made it as high as she dared having had her route blocked by Black which delayed her progress to the summit.  In the meantime, Black’s well acclimatised second climber had made it to the top and was also heading back down to avoid the same fate as his companion.  Blue’s second climber then made a dash for it and, with the path clear, made it to the peak just as the game drew to a close leaving Blue the winner.  Definitely a game to try again, but perhaps with the correct rules next time…

K2
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

Early starts in the morning left just Blue, Green and Burgundy, and they decided to give Blueprints another outing.  We’ve played this a couple of times at the group and it always goes down well.  Burgundy really struggled this time, but the game began as a closely fought battle between Green and Blue, enhanced by some really unlikely dice draws and rolls.  In the first round, Green took first place in the general classification and an award, while Blue took second and the award for using dice with the same number.  In the second round, positions were reversed with Blue taking first place and an award leaving it all to play for in the final round.  However, Green finished the game three points ahead of Blue who lost out on tie-breakers to both Green and Burgundy in every category in the final round.

Blueprints
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

Learning Outcome:  If you manage to get people to believe you are a threat, don’t be surprised when they attack you!

Boardgames in the News: Are Asmodée Taking Over the World?

Asmodée is the French translation for Asmodeus, and according to Binsfeld’s classification of demons, Asmodeus is the demon of lust and is therefore responsible for twisting people’s sexual desires.  In the boardgame world though, Asmodée (originally known as Siroz) are a small French game publishing and distribution company, specialising in the family market. For example, they are well known for Dobble, Dixit, Time’s Up! and Ca$h ‘n Guns, but they also publish some more challenging games including Snow Tails, Mr. Jack, Formula D, Takenoko and 7 Wonders.

Jungle Speed
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Asmodée was started in 1995 by Marc Nunès, a self-trained entrepreneur developing role-playing games, but quickly became France’s foremost games publisher and distributor.  One of the big early successes was Jungle Speed, launched in 1998, which has since gone on to be one of the top-selling titles in France, rivalling Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Pay Day.  The real turning point came in 2003, however, when Asmodée obtained the French licence to distribute Pokémon collector cards, which opened up the mass retail sector.  This development led to an 18% investment from Naxicap in 2005.  Naxicap’s stake was bought out two years later by Montefiore who acquired 60% of the company as part of a deal with management worth €40-50 million.  Montefiore invested €120 million to finance Asmodée’s international growth, funding the acquisition of the Belgian game distributor Hodin in 2008, the Spanish games developer Cromola and the German Proludo in 2009, followed by the purchase of a 60% stake in the UK-based distributor, Esdevium Games in 2010.  Asmodée also strengthened it’s portfolio with the acquisition of Abalone and partnership with Libellud (leading to the distribution rights for Dixit) in 2010.

Abalone
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

In 2012, Asmodée branched out further, setting up a subsidiary in Shanghai, China,  with the intention of expanding “into a new market taking advantage of Asmodee’s extensive line-up of games and the existing relationships with partners, thus promoting the brand in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan”.  This ambition brought Asmodée to the attention of the Eurazeo, a European investment company and a deal was announced in November 2013 that valued Asmodée at €143 million.   In January, 2014, almost exactly a year ago now, Eurazeo bought 83.5% of Asmodée through an equity investment of €98 million while Asmodée’s management team and original founders reinvested €14 million of their own money.

Ticket to Ride
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

With the backing Eurazeo provided, Asmodée then went big:  in August last year it was announced that Days of Wonder would be “merging into the Asmodée Group of game companies”.   Days of Wonder are one of the biggest names in modern boardgaming, and are often credited with the growth of the modern boardgame industry, thanks largely to their flagship Ticket to Ride games, which have sold well over two million copies to date.  This is not the only “big game” in their catalogue either, they are also responsible for Memoir ’44 and Small World, both of which are popular games, demonstrated by the number of expansions they support and which take Days of Wonder’s total number of games sold to over five million since their founding in 2002.

Small World
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor crosenkrantz

According to Forbes, Days of Wonder generates between $10 million and $20 million in revenue annually, not bad in such a niche market.  From Eurazeo/Asmodée’s point of view, such an acquisition makes sound financial sense, not just because of the commercial value, but because they already provided a lot of the distribution for Days of Wonder games.  This wasn’t enough for Asmodée however, and three months later, they acquired the U.S. publisher Fantasy Flight Games.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

This was a bit of a change of direction for Asmodée:  hitherto, all the acquisitions had been firmly in the family boardgame and distribution markets.  Fantasy Flight games are a very different animal and their headline games, Twilight Imperium and Arkham Horror are much less family friendly.   Even their X-Wing Miniatures Game which is very popular with fathers and sons, is a long way outside the normal scope of Asmodée, since it is essentially a two-player war game with a Star Wars theme.  However, there are considerable benefits for both parties, since the merger will enable Fantasy Flight to improve its distribution in Europe, while simultaneously giving the growing Asmodée Group access to Fantasy Flight’s North American sales and marketing teams.

Black Fleet
– Image used with permission BGG contributor Toynan

Asmodée weren’t stopping there, however, with Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games also becoming “part of the Asmodée family” late last year.  The link with Ystari Games almost certainly comes from their mutual interest in Space Cowboys.  Space Cowboys is a game creation studio created in 2013 by Marc Nunès (who started Asmodée way back in 1995, remember?), Philippe Mouret and Croc (both of Asmodée), Cyril Demaegd (Ystari) and Sébastien Pauchon (GameWorks).  Space Cowboys is a very small outfit, but already has one Spiel des Jahres nomination under its belt in Splendor and looks to be trying for a second with Black Fleet, the gorgeous pirate game released at Essen last year.

Eurazeo
– Image from eurazeo.com

So, what are Asmodée up to?  The concern is that gamers generally like the current diversity in the market and fear that this succession of mergers and partnerships will mean a homogenisation of the games available.  The November 2014 Eurazeo “Investor Day” report spelled out the current state of Asmodée in detail and the good news is that this does not seem to be Eurazeo/Asmodée’s intention.  The report states, “Each studio has its own DNA,” and goes on to say, “Repeated success lies in the full independency granted to these studios, to keep innovating.”  So it seems the diversity is valued, however, by acquiring mid-sized publishers like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight, Asmodée is positioning itself to compete more effectively with multinational toy giants like Hasbro and Mattel, who publish top board game brands including Monopoly and Scrabble.

Eurazeo
– Image from eurazeo.com

So, is it a good thing that Asmodée are setting themselves up to rival the big boys?  Well, Asmodée is not the only company to engage in mergers:  in 2011 Filosofia purchased the U.S. publisher Z-Man Games, and U.S. publisher FRED Distribution (which releases games under the Eagle Games and Gryphon Games brands), acquired U.S. publisher Face2Face Games.  More recently, in late 2013, Mayfair Games (the U.S. partner for Catan) bought a controlling interest in Lookout Games (the company who first brought Agricola, Caverna, Le Havre and Ora et Labora to the market).

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

Clearly a large stable company provides security for designers, as well as providing support for the individual studios who know that one poor decision is no-longer likely to bring about the end of the company, both of which have to be A Good Thing.  However, companies like Eurazeo invest for only one reason:  financial return.  With an effective monopoly, Asmodée are now in a position to squeeze the market, indeed we may already be seeing the evidence of this in the price rises announced at the start of the year.  With this in mind, it will become clear in due course whether Asmodée is good for boargaming in the UK or whether it is genuinely the demon of lust responsible for twisting our gaming desires…