Tag Archives: Bohnanza

2nd May 2017

With the inevitable pizzas mostly dealt with, we started the evening with one of Red’s “silly little games from Germany”.  Tarantel Tango (aka Tarantula Tango) is a daft little “get rid of your cards” game with the addition of animal noises.  The idea is that each player starts with a deck of face down cards which will be placed face up in one of five piles located around a central pentagon.  On their turn, the active player first makes a noise in response to the animal and number of spiders on the previous player’s card before placing their own card in a location dictated by the number of animals on the previous player’s card. Thus if a player’s card depicts one donkey and a spider the next player says, “Eee-ore” and places their card on the top of the next pile.  If the card had two donkeys, the card would be placed on the next pile but one, on the other hand, if there were two spiders, the player would have to make a double animal noise, “Eee-ore, Eee-ore!”

Tarantel Tango
– Image by boardGOATS

Simple enough, but things were confused by the fact that the animal art was like something from a Tim Burton Film, so it was easy to confuse them.  Also, according to the rules, a cow says “Moo-moo” (not “Moo”), which means with two spiders the active player must say, “Moo-moo moo-moo” – something that it is easy to forget when a noise must be made and a card played in less than two seconds, under the pressure of everyone else’s gaze.  Worse, some cards have no spiders at all which means the player must remain mute.  The penalty for failing to make the correct noise or put the card in the right place is to pick up all the cards on the table.  A similar penalty awaits when a Tarantula Card is played – everyone must slap their hand on the table and woe-betide the player who is last…

Tarantel Tango
– Image by boardGOATS

Once Red had roped Pine and Ivory into her madness, they were joined by Pink and Blue who read the rules  out.  Black’s comment from the next table was that it would take ages, but neither he nor Purple could be persuaded to join in, so with Burgundy still finishing his pizza everyone else started, what they thought would be a quick bit of fun.  It seemed like ages before the first person had to pick up cards and before long it looked like Pink had it in the bag with just three cards left.  Unfortunately, the stress of being so close meant he inevitably tripped over his words and gathered a large pile of cards as a consequence.  Ivory was next and managed to reduce his hand to just one card before making his mistake.  From here everyone took it in turns to reduce their stack to small handful of cards, but fail to actually get rid of the final few, by which time Purple was in such fits of laughter she was practically soiling the furniture.  It had been a lot of fun, especially at the start, but we were all quite pleased when we could finally move on to something else, so there was relief all round when Pine finally managed to get rid of his last card successfully.

Tarantel Tango
– Image by boardGOATS

With the gratuitous silliness over, we split into two groups, the first of which consisted entirely of people who hadn’t eaten any pizza and fancied making up for it with the pizza based “Feature GameMamma Mia!.  This is an unusual little card game designed by Uwe Rosenberg of Bohnanza fame (as well as designer of games like Agricola, Le Havre and the more recent Cottage Garden).  Everyone in the group likes Bohnanza, but Red is especially fond of it and was particularly keen to give this one a go.  Uwe Rosenberg has a liking for unusual mechanisms in his card games and Mamma Mia! is no exception.  The idea is that players are trying to fulfill pizza orders by first putting toppings 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.

Mamma Mia!
– Image by boardGOATS

All cards are placed face down so players have to try to remember what cards have been played.  Once a player has placed cards in the oven, they draw back up to the hand limit of seven, but the catch is that cards can only be drawn from either the ingredients pile or their own personal order pile.  This is very clever because players have a hand limit of seven and this is something that needs to be handled with care: order cards are needed to give a target to aim for, but too many and there isn’t enough space to hold enough ingredients to build sets.  Just to add to the challenge, we included the Double Ingredients mini expansion which adds a small number of cards which contribute to toppings instead of one.  Black and Purple had played the game before, but it was completely new to Pine and Red and it took a little while for them to get their heads round it.

Mamma Mia!
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine (who’s special ingredient was chili) cleared himself out in the first round taking an order for “Pizza Bombastica” (with at least fifteen toppings) and struggled to get back into the game.  Black (special ingredient pepperoni) on the other hand failed to place orders for any pizza in the first two rounds, instead, as Pine pointed out, “Saved himself to make ‘Quality’ pizza!”  Meanwhile, Red (with mushroom as her special ingredient) was very confused and was struggling to understand what was going on.  This was a feeling that wasn’t helped when Pine requested a “Pineapply-looking-olive” in the final round.  Despite her evident confusion, Red was definitely proving to be the “Queen of Pizza”, a title that also earned her accusations of “card counting” (something she might have tried had she understood what was going on).  In the final accounting, Red finished with seven orders, three more than Purple who had played a quiet, but very effective game making good use of her special ingredient (olives).

Mamma Mia!
– Image by boardGOATS

While the pizzaioli were busy making pizza, the other group (consisting predominantly of pizza eaters) were settling into a game of Last Will.  This is a game we’ve played before, but that was nearly two years ago, so it required a recap of the rules.  Last Will is basically the boardgame equivalent of the 1985 film “Brewster’s Millions”.  The story goes that in his last will, a rich gentleman stated that all of his millions would go to the nephew who could enjoy money the most.  In order to find out who that would be, each player starts with a large amount of money, in this case £70, and whoever spends it first and declares bankruptcy is the rightful heir, and therefore the winner.  The game is played over a maximum of seven rounds each comprising three phases. First, starting with the start player, everyone chooses the characteristics of their turn for the coming round from a fixed list by taking it in turns to place their planner on the planning board. This dictates the number of cards they will get at the start of the round, the number of “Errand Boys” they will be able to place, the number of Actions they will get and where they will go in the turn order.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor PaulGrogan

Inevitably, this is a compromise, so choosing to go first when placing Errand Boys, might guarantee the action of choice, but will only give one card at the start of the round and crucially, only one Action.  On the other hand, choosing to sacrifice position in the turn order could give three or four Actions.  Since all but two cards are discarded at the end of the round and Actions must be used or lost, this decision is critical.  Actions are important, but so are Errand Boys as they allow players to control the cards they are drawing as well as manipulate the housing market and increase the space on their player board.  The heart of the game is the cards, however, which are played in three different ways:  as a one off (white bordered cards); on a player’s board where they can be used multiple times (black bordered cards) or as a modifier (slate bordered cards) which enable players to spend more when black or white bordered cards.  Thus, White bordered “Event Cards” cost a combination of money and Actions to play, but once played, are discarded. In contrast, Black bordered cards cost at least one Action to play, and occupy space on the player’s board, but are kept and can be activated once in each round.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Black bordered cards come in three different types: “Expenses” which allow players to spend money; “Helpers” which additionally allow give players some sort of permanent bonus, and “Properties” which are by far the most complex cards in the game.  Properties are an excellent way of spending money as they are bought for a given amount and will either depreciate every round, or will require maintenance which can be expensive. Unfortunately, players cannot declare bankruptcy if they have property and must sell them.  This is where the property market comes in:  one of the possible errands is to adjust the property market, so if a property is bought when the market is high and sold when it is low, this is another possible avenue for losing money.  At the end of the round, everyone reduces their hand to just two cards and loses any left-over actions, which puts players under a lot of pressure as it makes it very hard to plan.  So the game is an unusual mixture of timing, building card combinations, strategy and tactics.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bswihart

Burgundy went first as he was the last person to pay for something – he paid for his pizza while everyone else had put their purchases on a tab.  The random draw meant everyone started with £120 (in poker chips), making for a slightly  longer game. Only Ivory hadn’t played it before, but it was such a long time since Blue, Pink and Burgundy it was only a vague memory, and none of them felt they had ever really fully understood the game.  Inevitably therefore, there was plenty of moaning and groaning from Burgundy and a lot of puzzled expressions from Pink.  Accusations of “winning moves” were aimed at Blue (accompanied by appropriate denials) when she was the first to take her dog and a chef on a Boat Trip and then bought herself a small mansion.  Property is the key, as it is expensive to buy and either costs to maintain or depreciates, however, it must be sold before a player can go bankrupt.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Maintenance costs or depreciation alone are not sufficient to ensure a player spends enough to win, so players need to find a away to make their properties cost more.  Blue first added a Steward (who enabled her to carryout maintenance on a property without needing an action) and then an Estate Agent to her portfolio.  This latter was particularly useful as it enabled her to over pay for property by £2 when buying and sell for £2 below market value.  Meanwhile, Ivory had bought a couple of valuable farms to which he added animals, then he maximised his outgoings by adding a Training Ground.  Not though want of trying, but Pink was the only one who failed to get a helper who would provide an extra action.  Instead, he had to make do with a two Hectic Days (which gave him extra actions) which he coupled with visits to the Ball.  The first of these was very effective, the second less so.  By this time he was beginning to run out of space on his player board, so Pink then decided to get an extension to his player board, but Ivory had other ideas and kept taking it first, much to Pink’s disgust.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

While all this was going on, Burgundy was muttering away and shaking his head ominously, quietly buying properties, and making reservations at restaurants with occasional trips to the theatre or trips on the river.  As the game entered its final stages it was becoming clear that it was Ivory who had really got to grips with the game though.  The extra messenger card came up and, as everyone had other things they wanted to do, he took it cheaply which gave him a little extra flexibility in his options.  Blue and Burgundy had began selling properties first, leaving them with a lot of cash to get rid of.  In contrast, although he had no money left, Ivory still had to sell his farms and dispose of the income before he could actually go bankrupt.  Despite Burgundy and Pink’s best efforts to get in his way though, Ivory just made it, finishing £1 in debt.  Nobody else could match that, with the Blue the closest with £16 credit.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor CellarDoor

Mamma Mia! finished long before Last Will, and the group were looking for something else to play.  Blue (from the next table) suggested they might like to try Indigo, which she described as “a bit like Tsuro but backwards”.  Tsuro is a simple “last man standing” game where players take it in turns to place a tile in front of their stone and move it along the path.  Indigo is also a game of moving stones, however, instead of trying to keep one stone on the board, players are trying to move different coloured stones off the board through their own “gates”.  There are other differences too, for example, the tiles are hexagonal rather than square and instead of choosing which tile to lay from a hand of three, tiles are drawn at random.  To make up for the random draw, players can place tiles anywhere they like, which enables players to try to build routes from their gates to stones, rather than the other way round.

Indigo
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the cleverest parts of the game is its semi-cooperative nature – with four, players share their each of the gates with one of the other players.  This introduces an interesting tension between working with other players while simultaneously competing with them.  So, as Purple commented, players that don’t work together get nothing.  Black, on the other hand, was quite taken with the pretty patterns the tiles made on the board.  It was quite a tight game throughout – since stones are stored secretly and have different values, it wasn’t easy to be certain who was in the lead.  In the event, the lead probably swapped several times, and the game finally finished in a tie between Black and Pine, both with ten points, with Red following on in third, three points behind.

Indigo
– Image by boardGOATS

Last Will was still underway, so the hunt resumed for another game, and Blue suggested Pueblo.  Although a slightly older game, this was a recent acquisition and Pink had met pine when he collected it from the village Post Office.  Although he hadn’t known precisely what it was at the time, the rattle had given away the contents as a boardgame.  Pueblo has a very robust rattle as it consists of lots of very solid plastic pieces.  It is one of those games that is quite different to anything else; Blue and Pink had played it quite a bit out in the garden over the weekend and thought the others might like to give it a go, especially as it was simple enough to play from the rules.

Pueblo
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player has a set of coloured pieces and a matching number of neutral pieces.  These are paired up to make a cube consisting of one coloured and one neutral piece.  On their turn, the active player places any unpaired pieces they may have on the grid shown on the board.  If they don’t have any unpaired pieces, then they break up a cube and choose which half to play.  Once they have placed a piece, the active player moves the Chieftain along the track around the edge of the board.  They can choose whether to move him one, two or three spaces, after which, he looks at the building along the grid lines and scores any coloured bricks he can see.  At the end of the game, the Chieftain makes one last trip round the board and the player with the lowest score at the end wins.

Pueblo
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was quite close, and everyone felt that the idea was great but that the game play was not as exciting as it sounded.  Unfortunately, everyone also suffered a bit from “Analysis Paralysis”, and as a result, the game felt like it dragged, a problem that was undoubtedly made worse playing with four than with two.  This is because with two there is just one opponent and the game becomes one of cat and mouse; with more players this tension is diluted.  As the game progressed, it seemed to drag more and more, so the final trip round the track was dispensed with leaving Pine the winner, just two points ahead of Purple.  With that over, and Last Will coming to an end, Pine, Purple and Black headed off for an early night leaving Red to watch over the final moves before it was time to for everyone else to head home too.

Pueblo
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Games that are a hit for some players are not guaranteed to work for others.

21st February 2017

We started the evening setting up the card games, The Golden Sails and 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel!, but as more players arrived and time was getting on, we abandoned them in favour of the “Feature Game”, Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen or Cliff Hanger).  This is a game that that arguably should be come the group’s signature game as it is very simple little trick taking card game all about goats.  As the rules were explained, Grey (on one of his rare, but much valued appearances), commented that it was like Blackjack (aka Pontoon or Vingt-et-Un) – i.e. play to a limit, but exceed that limit and you are bust.  The idea is that players choose a card from their hand and play it face up in front of them – the person who plays the highest card takes the trick and with it all the cards played in the round.  The player who plays the lowest card plays draws a Goat Island card.  These have two ends with different numbers on them, so the first “loser” takes a card and places the goat-meeple on one end, choosing which end will become part of Goat Island.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

The game continues with players playing cards and winning tricks, and the player who plays the lowest numbered card adding to Goat Island, choosing whether to add a large or small amount to the total.  At the end of the game, the total of the four cards that make up the island define the limit and players who exceed that value are out.  The catch is that players are not summing the face value of the cards (which go from one to fifty), instead, a little like 6 Nimmt!, they are counting goats head symbols which have little relation to the face value of the cards.  We played the game twice through, since we made a bit of a mess of it the first time.  After a long discussion about whether completed tricks should be placed face down or not, Red who led first misunderstood and thought the cards were played face down, so that screwed up her first turn and lumbered her with a pile of cards she didn’t want.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

This led to Grey’s comment that the game was poorly designed as once a player is bust their game is over.  In fact though, the game is so short that effective player elimination doesn’t matter that much and in any case, players who are out can still try to take as many others with them as possible.  After the first hand (taken by Grey), we gave it another try.  By this time, Blue had managed to find out who leads after the first trick so instead of passing the honour round the table, we played correctly and the winner led.  The second game went to Red, and was definitely more fun as we began to see what the aim of the game was and how to screw up other people.  We were just beginning to get the hang of it, but felt we should move on to something else now everyone had arrived.  It was genuinely very quick though, so we’ll probably play it again and it might be worth trying some of the variants too.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

With such a short “Feature Game” and everyone being far too polite, we spent a lot of time deciding what to play next.  Orleans, Terraforming Mars, Viticulture and Agricola were all on the table, but nobody wanted to commit in case something better came along, or perhaps because they genuinely didn’t really mind and were happy to fill in once those who did mind had made a choice. Eventually, Magenta said she would like to play Isle of Skye and several said they’d be happy to play that if others wanted to play something else.  Ivory on the other hand said he was quite happy to play Agricola (which had been brought with him in mind, then Green walked in, making things slightly more complicated as with nine players one game would have to be a five-player which might make it long.  In the end Red got fed up with people being indecisive and started to direct people:  first she made a three player game of Agricola, then she found two to join Magenta playing Isle of Skye which left Blue, Burgundy and Red to find something else to play, which ended up being Imhotep.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep is a very simple game that we’ve played a few times since is was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres last year.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions:  procure new stones; load stones on a boat; sail a boat to a monument; or play an action card.  Players can only store a maximum of five stones and when they procure stones they can collect a maximum of three.  Stones are loaded onto ships one at a time, but which of the five possible destinations the boats end up at and the order they are unloaded in is vital, so timing and planning is everything.  What makes it particularly tricky is that the best plans in the world can be crushed by opponents with one small action: when they take a boat to the “wrong place” or “at the wrong time”.  There are four ships and five building locations, so one doesn’t get visited and the round ends when all four boats have sailed.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The building locations are double sided so the game can be played with the less complex Side A, the slightly more confusing Side B, or a mixture of the two.  Red had struggled last time she had tried Imhotep since she ended up playing with two people who had tried it before and wanted to play with Side B without fully appreciating how much more complexity it adds.  This time, therefore, we stuck to the simpler Side A, but instead added the Stonemason’s Wager Mini Expansion to give it just a little extra interest.  This little promotional item allows players a one-off, extra option:  the chance to bet on which monument will have the most stones in it at the end of the game.  Otherwise the game is unchanged and there are six rounds in total, as usual, with points scored in different ways for the different buildings; the player with the most points at the end is declared the best builder in Egypt.

Imhotep: The Stonemason's Wager Mini Expansion
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Blue and Burgundy started out visiting the Market picking up statues, but with both in the same market it was always going to be a struggle.  Meanwhile, Red stole an essentially insurmountable lead in the Obelisks.  Blue took a green card that would yield a point for every three stones in the Burial Chamber at the end of the game, so she tried to encourage boats to go there.  Unfortunately, because she also nearly picked up a significant score on the Burial Chamber, but Burgundy was first forced to obstruct her plans and then Red and Burgundy started sending boats to the Temple instead.  In general, it was quite a cagey game with everyone concentrating on not letting anyone take too many points rather than trying to make a killing themselves.  Going into the final scoring, it was all quite close.  Red took the points for the Stonemason’s Wager, and Burgundy took points for statues, but Blue had a lot of bonus points from a range of sources, giving her first place, ten points ahead of Burgundy in second.

– Image by boardGOATS

Imhotep finished, but next game was not far behind, so Blue, Red and Burgundy played a couple of quick hands of Love Letter while they waited.  With its quick play, this micro-game is one of our go to fillers.  The idea is that each player has a single card in hand, and on their turn they draw a second and choose one of the two to play.  Each card has an action and a number, one to eight.  Players use the actions to try to deduce information about which cards others are holding and, in turn use that to eliminate them.  The winner is either the last player standing or the player with the highest ranking card at the end of the game.  In the first round, Blue was caught holding the Princess leaving Burgundy to take the round.  The second played out to the final card.  With just two possible cards left and the Princess still hiding, Red took a chance and played the Prince, forcing Blue to discard her hand.  This meant she had to pick up the set-aside card, which was, of course, the Princess, making it a two-way tie.

LoveLetter
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Magenta, Purple and Grey had been playing a game of Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres last year, and has proven to be quite popular with our group.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with the added feature of an auction at the start of each round and scoring at the end of each round.  The scoring is one of the interesting parts of this game as the four scoring criteria change from game to game and, and each one scores three times during the course of the game.  Choosing how to prioritise these to drive a strategy is one of the keys to playing well.  This time, with points available throughout for completed areas (lakes and mountains), this was a clear target, however, identifying a strategy and making it work are two different things.

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

For example, Purple was unlucky that she was unable to get any tiles with cows on roads until the final round, which meant she struggled to build a score early in the game.  Although this meant she picked up the bonus money for being at the back, she still struggled to get the tiles she wanted.  Similarly, Grey was unlucky in that he placed a tile that later became an real obstacle making it difficult for him to place tiles later and get points.  It was Magenta though who had been able to build an early lead, and kept it throughout picking up points every round.  A couple of lucky tile draws gave her good tiles that both Grey and Purple wanted making it a sellers market, and leaving Magenta with lots of cash to spend towards the end of the game.  Going into the final scoring, Magenta had a sizeable lead, but Grey had a large pile of cash which yielded a tidy eight points and very nearly gave him the game.  Magenta managed to fend him off though with the one point she took for her remaining seven coins, making the difference between first place and second.

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

With the games on the first two tables complete, Red, Magenta and Grey went home leaving Purple, Blue and Burgundy to play yet another in the long running campaign to beat Burgundy at Splendor.  This simple set collecting, engine builder has proved to be quite intractable.  Blue and Pine in particular have had several attempts to get the better of Burgundy, but so far he has just had the edge.  Sadly this this game was no exception, though the game was very, very tight. There was a shortage of Opals cards available, despite the presence of lots of cards needing them.  Emeralds were also quite scarce at the start, but Burgundy managed to build a substantial collection of Diamonds to keep the threat alive.  Blue thought she had finally got Burgundy trapped but in the final round Purple took a card and the replacement was a sapphire that Burgundy could take and gave him eighteen points, one more than Blue (who was last in the turn order).  Yet another very, very close game – we’ll get him in the end…

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, all evening, Ivory, Black and Green had been engaged in an game of Agricola.  This had started out with an extensive effort to disentangle the cards for the base game from the myriad of expansions Blue had somehow crammed into the box.  Once this was sorted though, and the game was set up, a rules explanation was necessary as Ivory hadn’t played it before.  The archetypal worker placement game, players star out with a farming couple and a shack and during the game try to build up their farmstead, livestock and family, the winner being the player with the most successful farm. Actions available include things like upgrading the farmhouse, ploughing and sowing fields, enclosing areas, taking livestock, and, of course, procreating.  One of the clever parts of the game is that each round, an additional action become available, but the order of these is not known in advance.  The stress is provided by harvests that occur at intervals during the game and require players to have enough food to feed their family, or resort to begging (which yields negative points at the end of the game).

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, instead of playing the family game, we played the full version which includes occupation and improvement cards.  The challenge with this game is to use the cards effectively, but not to get carried away and try to force the strategy to use cards to its detriment.  Green started with occupations and used them to quickly fenced a large padock for sheep (building one gave him three extras).  He then ploughed and got three fields up and running before going back to enclosing pasture for cattle. Despite only having two family members, he struggled to have enough food until he eventually managed to nab a cartload of clay and used it to build a an oven, which proved invaluable at keeping hunger at bay.  Towards the end, he finally managed to develop his family and added a pig for a total of twenty-nine.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Black played a quiet game, also didn’t grow his family and farm developed only slowly too.  As he often does, Black instead concentrated on home-making and upgraded his house to clay and then stone in quick succession.  Somehow he didn’t struggle at harvest time as much as Green, probably because he went into building ovens which provided his food.  This was at the expense of his farm, which remained stubbornly small, right until the end.  The unused spaces cost him though, as did his lack of pigs, and he finished with a fine house, but only one child and a score of twenty-three points.

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory went for a different strategy, starting by going for lots of food, and support for getting food later.  In particular he made good use of his Mushroom Picker.  Building his food engine so early enabled him to grow his family early in the game giving him extra actions.  These he used to quietly collect lots of resources, which enabled him to build a large field for sheep.  He then enclosed second pasture and just swiped a field full for boar before Green got them. He only ploughed late (perhaps it was the snowy landscape that delayed him), but his early food strategy really paid off.  All his extra cards were valuable too and added ten points to his score, giving him a total of forty-one points and victory by a sizeable margin, despite Green’s inadvertent cheating!

Agricola
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as Agricola came to an end, Splendor finished too.  So, after helping to shoe-horn the miriad of little pieces back into the boxes, Ivory and Green headed off leaving Black to join the others.  The ever dwindling numbers were boosted with the arrival of Pine, who had been two-timing us with the WI – he said they had the lowest average age of any WI he’d ever come across, so maybe that was the appeal.  The remaining five gamers felt there was time for one more game, as long as we could keep it to about forty-five minutes.  We are not the quickest at playing, or choosing and time was beginning to get tight, so we opted for Bohnanza as it played quicker than other suggestions and it wouldn’t need any rules reminders (like 11 Nimmt! and Port Royal).  The game is one of our old staples, is quick to learn and keeps everyone involved throughout.  The key to the game is that players cannot rearrange the cards in their hand and must play them in the order they arrive.  Thus, on their turn, the active player first plays the first card in their hand with the option of playing the second if they desire.  Once they’ve been planted, two cards are drawn which can be traded, but must be planted by someone.  This can lead to free gifts, but also players being nasty and refusing to take even the apparently most lucrative trades.

– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Pine was making up for lost time, and the well-known good nature of the WI hadn’t rubbed off.  He accused Burgundy of just about everything he could think of, in an effort to persuade everyone else not to trade with him. Black had one of his worst games for a long time with all the wrong cards coming up at the wrong time giving him nothing to work with.  Otherwise it was a very tight game. In the dying turns, despite Black’s protestations, Purple and Pine both gave Blue exceptionally favourable trades (possibly in an effort to square things from earlier, but more likely to ensure that Burgundy didn’t win – again).  Much to Pine’s surprise, that left him in joint first place with Blue, one coin ahead of Burgundy (possibly the most important factor to him).  Feeling she had been gifted a joint win by Pine’s generosity at the end, Blue offered to concede to Pine, but on checking the rules he won anyhow on the tie-breaker, as the player with the most cards in hand at the end.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Learning Outcome:  Cheating doesn’t pay.

13th December 2016

Unsure of who was coming, to get everyone in the mood, we started off with the quick set collecting game, Coloretto.  We’ve played this little filler a few times, but somehow, Red felt she’d missed out. The game is very simple: on their turn the active player either draws a chameleon card and places it on a “truck” or takes a truck (which means they’re out for the rest of the round). The idea is that players are collecting sets of cards, but only three will yield positive points, with the rest scoring negatively.  The really clever part of the game is the scoring which uses the triangular number sequence (one point for the first card, three points for two cards, six points for three cards etc.), which rewards one large set more than two or even three small ones. It was very tight between Blue and Ivory who both picked up sets of six, but Blue finished one point ahead thanks two her second set, three green chameleons.

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

With everyone arrived, we moved on to the evening’s “Feature Game”, Marrakech, a very simple little area control game played through the medium of the Persian rug. Played on a small grid, each player starts with thirty lire and a pile of pieces of carpet.  On their turn the active play can rotate Assam, the master salesman a maximum of ninety degrees left or right, before they roll the die to find out how far he must be moved.  If Assam lands on a carpet square of an opponents colour, then the active player must pay the owner “rent” equivalent to the total size of the carpet.  Once Assam has been moved and any dues paid, the active player places a strip of carpet. The carpet pieces are all the same size (twice as long as they are wide) and cover two squares on the board.  They can also overlap with pieces laid previously, but cannot be placed wholly on top of one single rug.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

This is where the strategy comes in – is it best to try to make a large contiguous area which will be very lucrative every time someone lands on it (but that players will avoid if at all possible) or is it better to make many small areas that players will be more likely to land on?  The game ends when everyone has played all their pieces of carpet and the winner is the one with the most money (each visible piece of carpet earns its owner one lira).  Marrakech is a nice little game, but what really makes it is the quality of the rendition.  Assam is a beautifully made and painted wooden piece; the “coins” are wonderfully tactile wooden discs and the carpet is well, a strip of coloured fabric.  Without these touches, the game would still be as good, but would be very abstract.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

We had two copies and plenty of people who were interested in it (to quote one of the GOATS, “I want to play the carpet game!”), so we played two parallel games.  Red, Blue, Ivory and Pine were first to get going with the slightly newer, brighter version of the game.  Pine and Red started out quite aggressively building large areas of carpet, trampling on each other and Blue and Ivory in the process and building a mini-carpet-mountain seven or eight layers high.  Throughout, it felt tight, but in practice, there was only ever going to be one winner and Red finished eleven lira ahead of Blue in second place.  On the next table, playing with the more traditionally “sandy-coloured” version, Green, Ivory, Purple and Black were playing a slightly more strategic and less vindictive game.  The result was a closer game with everyone within four points of each other, but was won by Green, just two lira ahead of Black.

Marrakech
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing almost simultaneously, there was a quick bout of musical chairs, with Green joining Ivory and Blue for a game of Ivor the Engine (its first outing with the “mammy sheep” picked up at Essen).  This is a cute little game with a viciousness that lurks just below the surface and belies the gentle art-work from the Ivor cartoons as drawn by Peter Firmin.  The idea is that players are travelling round Wales collecting sheep and the person with the most sheep at the end of the game is the winner.  A single sheep can be collected whenever you start your turn on a town or village with sheep in it, but more sheep can be collected if you are in a town or village without sheep and perform a task to “help Ivor”.  Helping Ivor comes at a price, however, as in order to do this you have to play one of the dual-purpose cards from your hand, which means you cannot use it to help you in other ways.  At the end of your turn you add one card to your hand from the face up displayed cards, however, when the chosen card is replaced from the draw-pile though mixed in with the errand cards are event cards which can be nice or nasty.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue got lucky, and started off in Grumbly Town which happened to have only one sheep. Since she also had a card for Grumbly Town, this meant she could pick up the one sheep and then play the card to help Ivor, netting a total of six sheep before Ivory had even had a chance to take a turn.  That was where her luck finished though, and Green soon caught up quickly followed by Ivory.  The cards fell well for Green as he picked up several cards for Tewin as he traveled to the south-east corner of the board picking up lots of sheep as he went.  Ivory had a little poke at him, taking a couple of his sheep when he had the chance, then , out of fairness, he then had a go at Blue, taking both the last sheep and the lost sheep token from her current location. Next turn, Green did the same to Blue and just to compound things, “the game” joined in, giving a total of nine sheep she’d missed out on.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Feeling rather “got at”, and in desperate need of time she tried to stop Green from finishing the game by doing the only thing her cards allowed her to do – put sheep in Tewin to slow Green down.  It was all too little too late, and twenty-five sheep is not an awful lot, so it wasn’t long before Green passed the threshold and triggered the last round.  Still with no useful cards and in a position that was not going to trouble the scorers, Blue was forced to do nothing, leaving Ivory to do what he could to catch up.  With some effort he was able to cross the line, but was still some way short of Green who still had his final turn to come.  In the final accounting, Green finished on thirty-five, nine sheep ahead of Ivory, and more than twenty clear of Blue, in what had been a very unforgiving game.

Ivor the Engine
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Red, Black, Purple and Pine were looking for something to play. With Burgundy away worrying about his MOT, Pine fancied his chances at Splendor.  We’ve played this little chip-collecting and card development “engine building” game quite a bit, but we all still seem to quite like it when we are looking for a light filler game. Since Black, Purple and Red had also suffered at Burgundy’s hands recently, they were very happy to join Pine in the certain knowledge that, for once, Burgundy wouldn’t win. The idea of the game is that players collect chips to buy gem cards which can, in turn, be used in lieu of chips. More expensive cards are also worth points and the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points (and the round is completed to give everyone the same number of turns). Points are also awarded for “nobles” which go to the first player to get a specific combination of gem cards and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.

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

Everyone was up for it, and it started out with players taking it in turns to pick up cards, keeping everyone guessing as to who had the edge. Before long, Black, Pine and Red edged ahead, then suddenly, Black declared he had fifteen points and everyone else panicked.  It wasn’t long before someone smelled a rat and there were demands for a re-count.  With the discovery that Black had miscounted and only had fourteen points, there were the inevitable tongue-in-cheek accusations of cheating and a second “final round” began.  Although this gave everyone a second chance, it wasn’t quite enough, and Black won with eighteen (despite “cheating”).  Pine finished in second, three points behind, so he’ll have to wait a little longer to win Splendor. One thing everyone was pleased about, however, was that at least Burgundy hadn’t won, and that was almost as satisfying as beating him, though not quite, obviously.

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

With Ivory and Green heading off early, that left five players and a debate as to what to play next.  Somewhere in the discussion “Beans” got a mention, and from then on, despite conversation moving onto Christmas music and everyone’s favourite version of “The Bean Rhyme” (“Beans, beans, good for your heart…” – who knew there were so many different versions?), the final game was inevitably Bohnanza.  This game is very simple:  in front of each player are two “Bean Fields” and on their turn, players must plant the first card in their hand and may plant the second.  Once the active player has planted the card(s) from their hand, then they turn over the top two cards from the draw deck:  these must be planted by the end of the turn, though not necessarily in one of the active player’s fields if they can be traded.  Once all these cards have been planted, the active player can then offer to trade any unwanted cards in their hand before their turn ends with them replenishing their hand from the draw deck.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

The catch is that players are not allowed to change the order of the cards in their hand which must be “planted” in the order they arrive.  However, it is possible to remove unwanted cards by trading them away (either during their turn or with the active player).  This simple mechanic coupled with the different availabilities and values of cards when they are harvested, are the critical parts of the game.  Thus one of the key points is the ability to value a bean and not overpay for it, or equally important, not give it away for less than it is worth.  The problem is that “value” depends on perspective, and this caused an otherwise friendly little game with a bit of bite to become a little bit nasty.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Blue had picked up and planted the first two Cocoa beans, so when Purple drew a third, Blue asked whether she would trade.  Blue didn’t have much to offer, but offered what she could and pointed out that there were only four Cocoa beans in the game and since we were less than a quarter of the way through the deck on the first pass, Purple could be waiting a long time.  Purple had other plans though and commented that it was a very valuable card and determinedly planted it.  On her next turn, Blue dug up her pair of Cocoa beans and put both in her money stack.  So it was more than a bit irritating for her when she promptly drew the fourth Cocoa bean card.  Blue was feeling a bit obstreperous after the rough treatment in Ivor and Purple was unable to offer a good trade.  So, much to Purple’s disgust and despite the difficulties it caused both of them, Blue planted the offending bean before immediately digging it up.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

This had a couple of consequences.  Firstly, Blue’s plans were now in tatters, and secondlym Purple had to choose whether to get rid of the Cocoa bean (with singles being hard to get rid of) or whether to wait for the second pass through the deck.  Purple doggedly stuck with it, so it was particularly unfortunate when Blue drew the Cocoa bean card almost as soon as the deck was turned.  With little chance to get rid of it and still in a very kamikaze mood, Blue planted it a second time before digging it back up again.  Purple was not impressed.  Fortunately, on the third pass, the Cocoa bean finally landed in the hands of Red.  She wasn’t in a silly mood like Blue, so Purple finally got her second Cocoa bean and was able to harvest them for two coins.  It was only just in time though and she had played nearly the entire game with only one field, and still finished third – quite an achievement.  Red finished in first place, just one coin ahead of Blue who had spent most of the game trying to dig herself out of her self-inflicted mess.

Learning outcome:  Value is dependent on circumstances and very much in the eye of the beholder.

18th October 2016

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

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

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

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Port Royal Unterwegs
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Kerala
– Image by boardGOATS

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

23rd August 2016

A little unsure as to who was coming, we decided to start with the “Feature Game”, which was the filler, Abluxxen (also known as Linko!).  This is a “get rid of all your cards” type of game, and although it is initially a little confusing to understand, it mostly became clear as we played.  On their turn, players play any number of cards as long as they are all the same. The cards are then sequentially compared with the last cards played by all the other players:  if the number of cards played is the same, and the face value of the cards played is higher, then the other player’s cards are “snatched”.  They can either be “snatched” by the active player (the “snatcher”) who takes them into their hand, or alternatively the “snatchee” has to do something with them.  The “snatchee” can either choose to take them back into their hand or discard them.  If they decide to discard, then they must replace the cards with the same number from the face up display in the centre or drawn blind from the draw deck.

Abluxxen
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, the idea is that players are trying to get rid of cards and force other players to pick cards up, however, picking up cards an also be a good thing as it can be an opportunity to improve the cards in hand.  Better, having a lot of identical cards in hand means that when they are played they go on top of any cards previously played making it more difficult for anyone to “snatch” them or force them to be picked up.  The game ends when either one player runs out of cards or the draw deck and central pool has been depleted.  Just to add to the the confusion, however, the winner is then the player who has played the most cards, but any cards left in hand give a penalty of minus one.

Abluxxen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although it was a simple game and everyone knew what they had to do, at first nobody really understood what they had to do to win.  Gradually people began to work it out though, starting with Burgundy who had watched a video of the game online, then Ivory who was new to the group, but had played plenty of games before.  Pine and Blue eventually joined the “in the know” club, but Red continued to struggle.  Every time it was her turn, Red said, “Sorry, I know I keep asking, but if I play two sevens what will happen?”  Despite this apparent lack of understanding, Red was the first to check-out and with a huge pile of cards too.  This was particularly amusing as Red had just been explaining to Ivory that he shouldn’t believe Burgundy and Blue when they claim to be doing badly or have no idea what they are doing as they usually go on to win.  Inevitably then, although most people were only one or two turns away from finishing, Red was miles ahead much to Burgundy’s chagrin as he needed just one more turn and was left with six cards in hand compared with the seven in his pile.  Blue who had just played seven “fives” and had only a couple of cards in-hand was second, just ahead of Ivory and Pine.

Abluxxen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Black and Purple had walked in just as Abluxxen started, so amused themselves reading game rules and trying to work out what everyone else was doing.  Abluxxen had taken a little longer than expected so with everyone present and a group of seven, we decided to split into two.  Red was keen to play Niagara, a really unusual game with a moving river.  It won the Spiel des Jahres in 2005 and still holds up as a good family game more than ten years on.  The group has played it before, but in summary, players have two boats that they move up and down the river, trying to collect gems and return them home, to the top of the river.  There are a couple of catches.  The first is that each player has a set of Paddle Cards and must play each one once before they can play any of them again.  These Paddle Cards dictate how far they can move on the river, but can also affect how much the river will move.  Paddle Cards are selected simultaneously at the start of the round, so there is an element of programming involved, though not as much as in games like Colt Express or Walk the Plank!, but it does mean there is an element of anticipation.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Marsh

The second “catch” is the river.  The river flows after everyone has moved their boats and the rate is dependent on the lowest Paddle Card played in the round and the weather.  Each player has a weather Paddle Card, which they use to speed up or slow the river down, however, as this has to be played instead of moving boats, this can be a trap for the unwary.  In the worst case this can lead to the loss of a boat and its contents with a penalty to get the boat back.  The game ends when one player fulfills one of three criteria:  four gems of the same colour, one gem of each of the five colours or any seven gems.  Gems are limited, and this leads to the third “catch”, which is that once a player has picked up a gem and has it safely in their boat, another player can steal it so long as they are paddling up stream and land on the same river segment.  So a nice little game with a nasty edge.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor erfalucho

Red was joined by Pine, Ivory and Burgundy in what was to be a very close game.  With four players, each boat should only hold one gem at a time, but a minor rules malfunction meant that everyone played with the double boats from the Spirits of Niagara expansion.  Red and Burgundy took full advantage of this collecting the difficult blue and pink gems first and in one trip.  It quickly became clear that five unique gems was going to be difficult so everyone went for the slightly easier seven random gems.  Pine was the only “proper adventurer” exploring the limits of the river.  Misinformed by Burgundy with respect to the effects of the weather, Pine become intimately acquainted with the waterfall, turning one of his boats to matchwood, but he was the only one to experience the long soggy drop.  Otherwise, the weather was fairly muted and everyone was fairly close to getting a full set of gems when Red, kicking on from her successful start got her nose over the line first, finishing with a total of eight gems.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor William Hunt

With Niagara done, the group moved onto Splendor.  In this game, players have just three options on their turn:  collect gem tokens, buy a gem card using gem tokens (and/or cards), or reserve a gem card and receive a gold (wild) token at the same time.  Players can have a maximum of ten tokens, though unlimited cards and the cards act as permanent tokens.  Thus, at its heart Splendor is an engine building game built on a set-collection mechanism.  Players score points when they buy some gem cards and for attracting Nobles which are awarded to the first player collect certain combinations of gem cards; the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points and the player with the most at the end wins.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite being a very simple game, it is one we still enjoy as a relaxing little filler.  Indeed, it got an outing last time when Blue succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when Burgundy came steaming through from nowhere to win.  It could have been this, or perhaps it was previous alleged trouncings that inspired Blue and Purple to let out an emphatic war cry from the neighbouring table exhorting everyone to stop Burgundy at all costs.  So, Burgundy did lots of sighing as everyone rallied to the clarion call and went out of their way to bring him down.  Pine had been one of the victims last time and, understanding his likely fate commented that he wished he could record all of Burgundy’s deep sighs and general moaning and then play it back to him when he won.

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

The tactics appeared to be working, however, as about half way through, Pine had eight points as Burgundy took his first.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy took the first Noble too, but he was still some way behind and nobody was terribly concerned.  Meanwhile, Ivory was quietly building his engine taking lots of freebees, looking like the new threat.  Red was enjoying herself hoarding rubies just to annoy Burgundy even though she was well aware that it wasn’t actually doing her any favours.  Then suddenly, Burgundy took his second Noble and the writing was on the wall:  everyone knew they were doomed.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy took his third Noble and nobody had an answer as he repeated the trick he’d pulled off so successfully last time winning from the back of the pack.

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

Meanwhile, on the next table Black, Blue and Purple were engaged in a slightly protracted game of Castles of Burgundy.  This is a game we’ve not played before with the group, though Blue had played it a few times as a two player game and Black had played it quite a bit online.  It is one of those games with fairly simple mechanics, but a lot of complexity in the game play.  The idea is that each player has two dice which they roll at the start of the round.  On their turn they then spend the two dice, trading them for two separate actions.  Players can take a building from the pool on the central player board that matches the number on their die, for example, if a player rolled a six, they can take any of the buildings in the “six” poll and place it in their own supply.  Their supply is limited in size and there must be space for them to be able to do this.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Alternatively, the player could take a building form their supply and place it on their personal player board on a space that matches both the number of the die and the colour of the building.  Both of these actions are quite restrictive, so players can instead choose to collect two worker tiles and add them to their store.  These worker tiles are the oil that greases the wheels a little, since they allow players to alter one of their dice by one for each tile used (e.g. spending two worker tiles will allow a player to change a five to a three or a one).  The last action is selling goods.  Players can acquire goods tiles during the game, but can only store three different types.  each of the six types correspond to a different number and, on their turn, as an action players can sell all their goods that correspond to the die (modified by workers if they choose).  In return they get a silverling and some points.  Silverlings are a form of currency and can be used to buy one extra building per round.  These are taken from a special pool, though there is nothing particularly special about the buildings themselves except that they are harder to obtain and therefore are generally only taken by players that really want them.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Points is what the game is all about, and being a game designed by Stephan Feld, there are lots of different ways to get them.  Although the actions within the game are simple, how points are achieved is where the complexity of the game really lies.  Each building placed on their board gives the active player a bonus.  Sometimes it is a bonus action, sometimes it is bonus points and sometimes it is a strategic advantage; it is the player that makes the most of these bonuses that will win the game.  Players then also score points for placing buildings to complete regions on their own board.  The larger the region, the more points they get, however, there are also bonus points for completing regions early.  Extra points are also available to the first players place the maximum number of each type of building in their province.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor 3EBC

Black, by far the most experienced, began by investing in the special buildings that give one off strategic bonuses (e.g. an the opportunity to place an extra tile or take another from the central board).  Blue began without a strategy and, as is her wont played very tactically, without a real strategy and see what unfolded.  Purple, on the other hand, went for animals early.  These give points, but in an unusual way:  every time an animal tile is added to an area, all the other animals of the same type score again.  Blue picked up four pigs in the first couple of rounds, then added two, then three then another four more, and before long she was following Purple down the animal route.  Their strategies were very different, however, with Purple taking anything she could get while Blue was much more targeted.  So, as Blue went heavily into pigs, she was able to keep re-triggering their scoring building a tidy number of points.  Purple could have made up for with the yellow knowledge tile that rewards players with four points at the end of the game for each different sort of animal they have, but Blue had her eye on it too and got there first.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

While Blue and Purple were engaged in a agricultural battle Black was able to continue with his plan pretty much unchallenged.  So he moved into shipping and completed lots of areas picking up the corresponding bonuses.  Purple took the bonus for finishing the farming tiles first and picked up points for finishing several others too including mining – quite an achievement since she was the last to get a mine at all.  It was the compound scoring for the animals that clinched it though coupled with the knowledge tile that enabled Blue to place her green farming tiles more flexibly and she ran out the winner with one hundred and eighty-five points, nearly twenty ahead of Black in second place.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor Korosu_Itai

Ivory headed off, and Castles of Burgundy was still well under way, which gave Red an opportunity to suggest one of her favourite games, Bohnanza.  The original bean-trading game, this is a staple family game and is still very popular with the group as it keeps everyone involved throughout and is usually very popular as a “gateway” game.  Last time he’d played it, Pine had really struggled, which both surprised the rest of the group and caused us a certain amount of consternation as it should have been a game Pine would have enjoyed.  It seemed he couldn’t remember the disaster last time though and he was happy to try again.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

The game is very simple, but players have to keep their eye on what is going on around them.  Players start with a hand of cards and are not allowed to change the order – a simple mechanic that is the critical part of the game.  In front of each player are two “Bean Fields” and on their turn, players must plant the first card in their hand and may plant the second.  Thus, the key to the game is managing the order of cards in their hand, as they cannot be rearranged and must be “planted” in the order they arrive.  However, it is possible to remove unwanted cards by trading them away.  Once the active player has planted the card(s) from their hand, then they turn over the top two cards from the draw deck:  these must be planted by the end of the turn, though not necessarily in one of the active player’s fields if they can be traded.  Once all these cards have been planted, the active player can then offer to trade any unwanted cards in their hand before their turn ends with them replenishing their hand from the draw deck.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

There are lots of different strategies players use:  the cards have different values which reflect their rarity so some go for high value rare cards and others for more common cards that are easy to get.  The best players are usually the most flexible and those that fit in best with what other players around are trying to do.  Another aspect players need to keep an eye on is harvesting.  Each field can only contain one type of bean and when they are harvested some of the cards are kept as profit.  In this way, the rare cards (which are also the most profitable) are gradually depleted from the deck.  So towards the end of the game, they become increasingly difficult to find.  Worse, sometimes there might only be one card left and woe-betide the player that gets stuck with it in a field as there is a nasty little rule that says players can only harvest a field with one bean card if all their fields have only one bean card.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

This time, Pine began well offering lots of generous donations which earned him lots of good will as well as getting him off to a flying start.  In contrast, Burgundy was repeatedly forced to plough up fields before promptly picking up the beans he had just disposed of.  The first trip through the deck always seems to take ages, but as usual, the second time through was much quicker.  With three players, everyone got a couple of turns in the final, third pass and everyone was looking nervously at each others’ piles of “coins”; it looked very close.  In fact, there was only one point in it as Red finished just ahead of Pine who finished with a very creditable twenty-seven.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

With Castles of Burgundy finally over, Blue was keen to play something quick and light to finish the evening and, knowing how much Purple likes it, suggested Om Nom Nom.  This is a really sweet little game with elements of double-think.  The idea is that there are three food chains each with three tiers, a primary predator, a secondary predator and pray.  Each player has a hand of cards representing the top two predator tiers and dice are rolled to represent the bottom two tiers.  Once the dice have been rolled and assigned to their spaces on the board, everyone simultaneously chooses a card and the food chains are resolved starting from the top.  Any predator with no prey (or where there is insufficient for all the animals played) goes hungry and is discarded.  Otherwise, prey is divided equally amongst its predators leaving any left-overs for later.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

A bit like 6 Nimmt!, it is all about synchronising with everyone else, or rather in this case, getting out of synch with everyone else.  This is because everyone has the same set of cards, so if every player except one plays the same cards, all the players who played the same cards will likely cancel each other out and get no reward.  On the other hand, irrespective of whether they get any reward for playing something different, the very fact they did not play the same card means they have it to play later when there is no competition.  This worked particularly well for Blue in the first round, when she managed to pick up lots of carrots and cheese uncontested.  Since prey at the bottom of the food chain are worth two point, this netted her a massive seventeen points.  In contrast, the second round was very low scoring with lots of animals going hungry.  Blue was less effective this time, but still won the round so going into the final round the game was hers to lose, and she tried her best.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine struggled throughout and Red couldn’t get to grips with the double think aspect so was curious as to whether random draw would work better  Since she won the final round it is possible that it did.  Meanwhile Blue was doing her best to throw the game, demonstrating that while it was important to be out of synch with everyone else, it was important to be out of synch in the right way.  First her rabbit got eaten, then her cat went hungry, but somehow she managed to scrape together enough points to ensure she ran out the winner.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  You don’t have to know what you are doing to win.

19th April 2016

Our “Feature Game” was to be Colosseum, which several people were keen to play, but there were two issues:  it plays better with four than three, and always seems to take a lot longer than it should so we wanted to get going.  We knew that Green was going to be late, but we didn’t know how late and that made a huge difference to our game plans for the evening; with six present already, should four get going and risk leaving two to play on their own all night if Green couldn’t make it at all in the end, or should we play something short together first and risk not having enough time for Colosseum?  Texts were sent and there was much discussion including the inevitable mention of 6 Nimmt!, but aside from that we seemed to have few genuinely short fillers that would play six.  Before we could actually make a decision, Green turned up and solved the problem for us and Burgundy and Blue started setting out Colosseum eventually joined by Blue, Pine and Magenta.

Colosseum
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

The idea of the game is that each player is a Roman impresario, producing great spectacles in his or her arena in the hopes of attracting the most spectators.  As such, the game comprises elements of auction, trading and planning with the ultimate goal of set collecting, where the sets represent groups of performers that have to match the program chosen.  A complete program will attract its maximum number of spectators, where an incomplete program can cost players severely.   There are several unusual aspects of the game, but the most obvious is the scoring; rather than summing the points during the game, a player’s final score is the number of points they scored for their most successful production, i.e. their most successful of the five rounds.  Each round is broken down into several phases.  First players can invest capital in improving their production, by for example, buying season tickets (which give a guaranteed five additional spectators for each subsequent round) or perhaps investing in a more expansive program which might increase the number of points available if it is completed successfully.  Once all the players have improved their infrastructure, next they attend the market and bid for performers.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

The auctions are unusual in that each player has an opportunity to initiate an auction (i.e. choose which of the five sets are going to sold) and if they win, then the market is restocked, otherwise the next auction is chosen from fewer options.  We decided to play what we thought was the original variant where each player can only win one auction; once they have won, they are then not able to bid on any later sales.  However, on later inspection we discovered that thanks to the different variants available we had scrambled it slightly.  Rereading the rules indicates that if a player loses an auction they initiated, they have the opportunity to try again, but with a smaller pool to choose from.  In our auctions, each player was able to initiate just one auction, and if they won, the market was restocked and the next player had a go, whereas if they lost, they had to fight it out in a later auction.  Auctions lead to all sorts of interesting dilemmas: is it better to bid and try to force someone to pay more, or is the risk of ending up with unwanted tiles too great?  With our variant, we found that it was also sometimes better to let the initiator win because a better batch of tiles might come out, but failure to win an auction after initiating it was also a problem as it risked getting left with a choice of paying for unwanted tiles or getting nothing, which really added pressure.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

Given the relative shortage of tiles in the game, coming away with nothing is not really an option, but with a minimum bid of eight, the wrong tiles can be expensive.  That said, the next phase is an opportunity to trade, and occasionally trading away something that is highly prized by others can turn out to be particularly productive.  Like Settlers and Bohnanza, trades do not have to be symmetrical and must go through the active player, but in addition to trading tiles, money can also be used to sweeten a deal, or even buy an unwanted tile outright.  Finally, players take it in turns to produce their spectacle.  In order to do this, they roll a die (annotated with Roman numerals, obviously) which they can use to move one of the dignitaries, the Emperor, two Senators and three Consuls.  These increase a players total for that round if they are in the arena when it is scored.  If on the other hand, a player can move one of these characters onto a special “resting space” they get an “Emperor’s medal” as a reward. These can be traded in for money, the chance to move a dignitary forwards or backwards up to three spaces, three extra spectators or two can be used to get an extra investment opportunity at the start of the round.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

There are lots of components to the score of each production.  Firstly there is the basic score associated with the program:  this has a maximum potential value with points deducted for missing performers.  To this, bonuses are added for season tickets, podiums (obtained for winning a round), star performers, dignitaries, previously completed event programs and Emperor medals.  If this score is higher than the player’s previous highest total, their marker is moved to this new maximum and they receive that total in money.  Once every player has completed their spectacle, a podium is handed out to the player who is in the lead and the player who is at the back takes a performer of their choice from the leading player’s pool.  Finally, every player discards one performer token used in the round as “natural wastage”.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player begins the game with two programs, a small one and a larger one.  Pine started out with no performers that matched either of his and some that weren’t even available in the market, but everyone else had at least a small degree of overlap.  The first round was a little tentative and Blue ended up as start player, so went first and invested in a season ticket.  The early investments are critical as they continue to have an effect throughout the rest of the game.  Magenta decided to do something different and expanded her arena, while Pine also picked up a season ticket and Burgundy opted for an Emperor’s Loge (pronounced “Lowj”).  The Loge is an interesting investment as it doesn’t directly yield points.  Instead, it allows the player to roll two dice and move one or two dignitaries just before producing their spectacle, potentially enabling players to gain more points that way.  Burgundy had another plan though and forfeited the opportunity to take extra points, taking an emperors medal instead.  As the most experienced player, he was of the opinion that the medals are really important.

Colosseum
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Blue was forced to produce the larger of her two programs in the first round which gave her a podium to add to her arena, but also cost her one valuable performer – a mistake she decided not to make again.  The other consequence was that she was forced to produce the lower value production in for the second round as her arena wasn’t large enough (she had bought a season ticket in the first round rather than enlarging her auditorium).  In the second round, one of the market stalls unusually had two of the rare “wild” tiles in it.  These are very powerful as they don’t need to be assigned as a particular artist giving players much more flexibility and two was very enticing.  In the first round Blue had got herself into a real mess having gone first and not won her own auction resulting in a messy scrabble to get tiles at the end of the round (a consequence of the rules change).  Having seen this, everyone else decided to play safe and opted to choose a market they needed and then won largely uncontested leaving Blue to go last and take the wilds very cheaply.  Despite this, Pine took the lead which he retained for the next couple of rounds as well.  It was at about this point that Pine commented that he thought there would have been more “gladiatorial fighting”, to which Burgundy replied that there would be plenty of that by the final round…

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

In the third and fourth rounds everyone was trying to get in a position for a big push in the final round. Magenta bought a season ticket instead of expanding her auditorium in the third round and therefore ended up in the same pickle that Blue had found herself in at the start.  With only the one medal Magenta was unable to buy an extra investment opportunity which mean she was forced reproduce a medium event in the final round rather than buy a new large event.  She went into the final round with the most money though which had the potential to guarantee her a good auction.  Blue eschewed a new program in the fourth round, opting for another season ticket instead to try and set herself up for a big final round.  Pine was very keen for a trade with Blue in the penultimate round, but as she had completed her program and still didn’t know what she was going to do in the final round she declined much to his disgust.  Repeating a lower value production in the fourth round also ensured that Blue just finished last and was able to add insult to injury taking a valuable token from Pine who was well in the lead with a massive fourty-nine.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

With one round to go, Blue questioned whether Burgundy thought the Emperor’s Loge had been worth buying in the first round.  He replied that the wisdom on boardgamegeek.com is that the medals are essential and because the Loge allows players to roll two dice they really help with that strategy.  By this time, the value of the medals was becoming very obvious as trading in pairs enabled both Burgundy and Blue to make an extra investment which enabled Blue (start player again in the final round), to buy the most expensive, largest program (No. 30). Pine promptly followed by taking No. 28 and with his star performers and having so many podiums from the earlier rounds he looked in a good position, though he needed a lot of acts to complete his show.  Blue was in a slightly better position with three “wilds”, but had very few bonuses.Blue went for the market she fancied most and Magenta decided to bid against her.  Having not bought a large program in the final round, Magenta had far more money than anyone else and therefore the upper hand.  Eventually, as money is only significant in a tie-breaker, Blue bid everything she had.  Magenta, seeing other options of at least as great an interest to her decided to let her have it and Magenta took what she fancied, uncontested.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

While Pine and Burgundy were trying to work out which markets to take in order to do themselves the best favours, Blue looked at her options and Magenta’s.  Since she Pine and Burgundy’s discussions were getting complex and could not involve her, Blue got bored and decided to see if Magenta would be interested in trading one of Blue’s “wilds” and an otherwise superfluous lion for one of her “green men” and a chariot.  This would give both players one extra performer overall, and complete Magenta’s program, so she agreed.  Thus, when Pine and Burgundy had finished thrashing out all the options, Blue and Magenta’s trade went through on the nod and it was only when Pine and Burgundy came to trying to further optimise their situations that they realised that Magenta had things they wanted, but nothing to offer her in return.  Pine tried his best to get Magenta to trade, but she was steadfast that she wasn’t going to help him without getting something useful in return.  Burgundy’s offer of two horses initially looked promising as he thought it would enable Magenta to take the star-turn bonus from Blue, but it would only give a tie, so ultimately, that trade was also unsuccessful.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue moved a Senator into her arena and scored a total of eighty-two setting the bench-mark for everyone else.  Although it sounded a lot, Blue didn’t think it would be quite enough and indeed it was very, very close, much closer than anyone had thought it would be.  In the end, the Blue just had enough to finish four points ahead of Burgundy who was just two ahead of Pine who came in third.  With the scores so very close, we had the inevitable review of the game and concluded that the the key moment was probably Blue taking the two wilds so cheaply in the second round, which would not have happened without the unintended rules revision.  The other key moment was in the final round of negotiating when Blue and Magenta agreed their critical trade.  Pine was verging on indignant that after playing for two and a half hours, it was essentially up to Magenta to choose the winner and suggested that should be the learning outcome for the week.

Colosseum
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Black and Purple had persuaded Green to join them playing one of their old favourites, Vikings.  This is a fast economic game, but despite the nominal “Viking” theme there is  none of the usual Norse Gods, exploration or pillaging involved.  Black and Purple had come across it again recently after a long break and fancied giving it another outing. It is a game that we’ve not really played before in the group and Green was new to it too, but was willing to give it a ago. It is one of those games where the gameplay is not complicated and yet the explanation took ages.  In summary, the game consists of six turns and on each turn, twelve tiles and twelve meeples are randomly drawn, paired together around a rondel. in each round, players take turns selecting a meeple/tile combination until they’re all taken.

Vikings
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

The tiles are pieces of islands and there are left ends, right ends and middle pieces.  As players acquire these tiles, they are considering which sort of meeple would be placed on that tile, as each tile can hold only one meeple.  The rules for placing these tiles are fairly straightforward, for example, a partial island can’t connect directly to open water, etc.  The meeples come in five different colors and these colors denote their function in the game. For example, the yellow meeples are miners and they bring in money every turn; the red miners are nobles and they bring in two points apiece every time you score points, and so on.  Once the tile selection and placement has been carried out, all the yellow meeples will make the players some money. On even turns, VP will be scored. At the end of the game, players can gain bonus points for completing the most islands and/or completing the largest island.

Vikings
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

It took Green a couple of rounds to work out how it all worked and ended up making a couple of little errors when laying out of his islands, which included not having an island space to place his gold Viking on and which meant he was able to get income, which was compounded by the bonus tile he had picked up which would enable him to gain an extra two coins for each gold Viking.  In the meantime, Purple had a fair few noblemen who would not only score her well, but also enabled scoring for the large number of gold Vikings and fishermen below. She managed to avoid any ships in the first couple of rounds and so gained all the bonuses available to her.  Black did have a number of ships, but he also had the warrior Vikings placed to combat them, so also gained a healthy bonus income.  Green had a ship and a warrior, but both his scoring and income were low.

Vikings
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

After the first couple of rounds, the game progressed in pretty much the same pattern, except this time Green had sussed out what he was trying to do and regularly collected boatmen to redistribute his Vikings in time for scoring.  However he was hampered by a lack of funds in the middle rounds, but when he finally got the gold guys out, he suddenly started to rake in the cash.  This meant he was able to buy just what he needed in the final round, much to the others annoyance.  By the end, Purple had a very red and yellow looking board and the longest island (six tiles long giving her five bonus points). Black had a huge fleet of ships, but most were covered by warriors and those that weren’t were not powerful enough to do much damage. He also had the most complete islands (seven which gave him a seven point bonus). Green had a relatively low scoring board, but he did have the most boatmen (giving ten bonus points). It had been a very poor game for fishermen, in fact, almost all the Vikings left in the bag were fishermen, so everyone was underfed, but Purple was less underfed than Black and Green.

Vikings
– Image by BGG contributor dinaddan

So in the final scoring Black had won through, beating Purple into second place (the first time she had not won this game for some time) and Green came in third, though much closer than he thought he would be.  It was then that Black realised that Purple had forgotten to score her bonus island tile, which gave her a massive extra nine points, and with it, the win!  We discussed the bonus tiles after the game and although the rules were not clear, we felt we had probably played it wrong. We only replaced the tiles that had been taken each round, rather than swiping them all and laying out a new lot. Since there were four tiles per round for six rounds and we had two piles of twelve, it looked like what was meant to happen was a new set each round.  This would have made more choices available (and more bonus fishermen which would have been handy).  Green decided that he liked this game very much and would be happy for Black and Purple to bring it again.

Vikings
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The shows were still going on on the next table, so we needed another medium weight game and decided upon the cute Panda game, Takenoko.  While setting up there was a short discussion on the evolutionary dead-end of the Panda and how on earth did such a creature ever evolve in the first place. Although since they are such cute creatures, we were glad they did and they had led to the clever little game.  The play area starts with one single hexagonal “pond” tile with two characters on top:  the Imperial Gardener and the Panda.  On their turns players first determine the weather by a roll of the weather die, then perform their two actions.  These actions must be different and the player can choose freely from the five available:  add a new bamboo plot; take an irrigation channel (which can be played or stored for later use); move one of the characters (either the Imperial Gardener or the Panda), or draw an objective card and add it to their hand.  The aim of the game is to earn points by completing objectives.  When a player completes one of their objectives, they show everyone and the card is placed face up in front of them.  Players can complete as many objectives as they like on their turn and end of the game is triggered when one player full-fills a set number of objectives.

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor nad24
and nonsensicalgamers.com

This game was a slightly unusual one as we all placed tiles in such a way that there was only ever one large field of each of the three colours and by half way, we all had mostly stopped laying tiles at all. In typical British style, the weather was mostly awful; wind; cloud; and rain. It was ages before the sun came out, but thereafter it made enough of an appearance to keep us all happy. Purple was the first to complete a mission card and Green wasn’t far behind, both tile pattern cards. The Panda and Gardener were mostly travelling between the pink and yellow fields, leaving the largely un-irrigated green fields untouched.  This enabled Green and Purple to get some tower and bamboo chomping bonus cards, but Black was beginning to fall behind. His problem was that all his bonus cards were low scoring. He kept using his actions to take more bonus cards, but they always seemed to be low scoring, and unless he could get more points out of it he wasn’t going to win.  He completed a few objectives on the way, but didn’t want to fill all of his eight with low scoring objectives so held back on claiming some.  In the meantime, Green was rapidly claiming bonuses, mostly towers giving a healthy haul of points. Purple made a few miscalculations on which bamboos would grow and by how much and thus failed to get a card or two that she had planned.

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

As the game approached the end, Green and Purple both had claimed six bonus cards and Black still only had four.  But then with a flourish, suddenly Black finished the game.  He had given up on getting higher scoring objectives and decided the best bet would be to get the ones he had got down and stop Green winning any more points, also picking up the two point bonus for finishing first in the process.  Everyone else got one more go which was enough to give Green a seventh and Purple her eighth objectives.  Totalling up the scores showed that Black had been right about not winning with low scoring cards.  That honour went to Green, who finished nearly ten points ahead, with Black just taking second place.  In the post game discussions, Blue commented that although she had always wanted to like the game she felt it just lacked something.  Black said that he had always felt that the game was very Luck based, although Green did point out that if Black had just gone with the low scorers he would not to have wasted as many actions gaining the cards and could have finished the game earlier, before Green was able to amass all his points. However, Green and Burgundy both agreed that the tile layout bonus cards were the weakest as the points were usually low and yet did not seem any easier to get. This debate will probably run and run, much like the one about the Panda’s evolutionary dead-end…

Takenoko
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ObeyMyBrain

Learning Outcome:  Even after playing for two and a half hours, sometimes Magenta still gets to choose the winner.

9th February 2016

Blue was delayed by washing machine shenanigans and Green by pancakes, so while Burgundy, Black and Purple were entertained by food, Red and Magenta distracted them with a few quick rounds of Love Letter.  Magenta took the first two rounds winning the second by drawing the princess as the penultimate card; the third round went to Black when he played a Prince and asked Purple to discard her card which turned out to be the Princess.  With the arrival of Green and Blue had finishing her pancakes, we decided to play our “Feature Game” which was Ticket to Ride and its variants.

Love Letter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Which variant was the subject of some debate as we had all played different versions and everyone wanted to try a different one.  For example, Blue had never played the original USA version, but all those that had didn’t want to play again; similarly while Green was interested in playing Märklin, Black and Purple weren’t keen; they were interested in Switzerland or Nordic Countries, but Magenta, Blue and Green were unenthusiastic about that.  And so it went on, in fact, the only thing everyone agreed on was that we should split into a three and a four and nobody wanted to play Europe edition (as everyone had played that a lot). In the end, the group of three was based round Black and Purple who wanted to play with the Switzerland map and setup, and were joined by Burgundy who was fairly flexible.  That left the group of four who decided to go for Nederland as none of them had played it before.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic Ticket to Ride game can be summarised as follows:  players take it in turns to carry out one of three possible actions and when one player has two pieces left or fewer, everyone gets one more turn before the game ends and points are tallied.  The first action is to lay trains on the map, but in order to do this, they must spend train cards in the colour featured on the map.  Thus, if a player wants to claim a four car route, they must play four cards of the corresponding colour and finally place four of their plastic carriages on the board in the correct location scoring points as they do so.  If they do not have cards to claim the route they want then they can, instead, choose two cards, either from the five face up cards next to the board, or from the face down draw pile.  “Laying trains” scores points, but a large number of a player’s points are scored at the end through tickets which give points to players that have connected several short routes together to connect two more distant cities.  Each player starts the game with some tickets (chosen from a larger number), but on their turn may, instead of drawing cards or claiming routes, draw more tickets.  At the end of the game, tickets which have been successfully completed score points, while unfulfilled tickets score negatively.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by BGG contributor stormrover

Although this is a fairly complete summary of the rules for the original base game, each different version has slight modifications and variations that change the game slightly.  The “Swiss trio” got under way first as Burgundy was quite familiar with the rule modifications:  tunnels, ferry routes and country-to-country tickets; locomotive cards can only be used for ferries and tunnels, but can be drawn from the face-up cards without penalty.  The game was very close with Purple trying to make a long route from east to west, Black travelling north to south and Burgundy doing a bit of both. The tunnels were a bit of a hindrance with everyone struggling to get through the Alps without paying extra.

Ticket to Ride: Switzerland
– Image by boardGOATS

As the ticket scoring came to a close, Burgundy had his nose in front and looked to have the win in the bag, but carefully counting up the trains gave Black the bonus for the longest route and with it, the win by just two points.  Burgundy was particularly cheesed off as he had attempted to claim a tunnel on his final turn that would have given him the longest route, but the fates conspired against him.  It was only later that we realised that there hadn’t been a recount for the points awarded as trains were placed on the map and as, invariably points tend to get missed out, a recount is generally sensible.

Ticket to Ride: Switzerland
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Blue, Green, Red and Magenta had worked out the rules changes applicable to Nederland.  There are no ferry routes or country-to-country tickets and obviously, no tunnels, however, in this low-country with countless canals and rivers, there are bridges instead. and these have a toll.  Each player starts with “toll tokens” to a total value of thirty.  Most of the routes are double routes, so can be claimed by two different players, this feature is common with all other versions of Ticket to Ride when playing with the maximum number of players, but in this game they are used for all games.  The first player to claim a double route pays the marked toll to the bank, but the second player to claim that route pays the toll to the player who got there first.  These tolls become quite critical in the end game as there are bonus points available for players who manage to conserve toll tokens, and these bonuses are sizable with fifty-five points going to the player with the most tokens at the end of the game and thirty-five and twenty for second and third.  Players who can’t afford to build, can borrow from the bank, but that removes them from the race for bonus points as well as costing points at the end of the game.

Ticket to Ride: Nederland
– Image by boardGOATS

As is traditional, everyone began by moaning about where their starting tickets were.  Beyond that, nobody really knew quite what to expect, but it was clear that this wasn’t a game where players could ill-afford to hoard train cards and wait as they were likely to find themselves paying tolls to other players and giving them bonus points.  As such, everyone got going quickly and Red led the way placing several long routes giving her an early lead.  Everyone else caught up, and as players started to run low on trains, they realised they had to watch the number of toll tokens they had left else they would have to begin to borrow and that would put them out of the running for the bonuses.  Blue picked up extra tickets first, but they left her with a really tough decision as most of her track was in the north-west and the tickets she had were pretty much everywhere else.  After a very long time thinking, she decided to keep them all and go for broke.  The others soon followed, picking up more tickets, and Green had several goes with some corresponding to routes he had already claimed.  It was only a couple of turns after she had drawn her extra tickets that Magenta counted her trains and started to make some uncomfortable sounding noises suggestive of possible problems ahead.

Ticket to Ride: Nederland
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue triggered the end of the game and it was all too close to call with less than ten points between first and last before the tickets and bonus points were added on. Green was the first to count up and there was a stunned silence when we found he had a massive one hundred and thirty-seven points from the tickets to add to his train total of fifty-two.  Red had a couple of tickets that she had failed to complete so her ticket total took a bit of a bruising, but her problems were nothing to Magenta’s.  She only realised she didn’t have enough pieces to complete all her tickets when it was too late, so all her hard work to fulfil her initial tickets was almost completely negated as she finished with a ticket total of just one!  Blue had managed to complete all her routes and was pretty much neck-a-neck with Green which, like the other game, left it all down to the bonus points for toll tokens.  Red took the fifty-five points for the most remaining toll tokens, giving her a very respectable one-hundred and fifty-four and third place.  Blue picked up an extra thirty-five points and finished forty points ahead of Green who finished with the fewest toll tokens and therefore didn’t add to his score.

Ticket to Ride: Nederland
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine had appeared towards the end of the game and, after a brief explanation of the rules, had commented on the name of the game in German:  Zug um Zug, which translates to “step by step”, although Zug also means train.  This kind of double-entendre is not uncommon in Euro game titles and prompted a discussion of other games with similar “jokes”.  Blue mentioned Tier auf Tier which literally translates to the English title “Animal upon Animal”, a children’s game where players stack wooden animals, creating “tiers”.  Magenta brought up her favourite game, Bohnanaza, where “Bohn” is the German for bean.  Green chipped in with his offering of Citadels, which is called “Ohne Furcht und Adel” in German which literally means “without fear and noble” (colloquially translated as “without fear and nobility”).  This is actually a pun on “Ohne Furcht und Tadel”, which means “without fear or blemish”.  It is an old-fashioned expression seldom used now except perhaps when describing a perfect performance by Michael Schumacher for example, that refers to somebody being very valiant and chivalrous (ala King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table).  Interestingly, when trying to find the correct literal translation, Green submitted “Ohne Furcht und Adel” to Google and got “Citadels” in return, perhaps a measure of how embedded games are in German life.

Animal Upon Animal
– Image by BGG contributor dr.mrow

With eight of us, and nobody terribly keen to play anything too cerebral, we decided to go for something light, 6 Nimmt got a mention, but we settled on Las Vegas, using the extra dice for more players players and the wild cards from the Boulevard expansion, and the Slot Machine from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar.  This was a Christmas gift and had its first outing in January when it was the “Feature Game”, but as a light dice game that plays a wide range of player numbers it is quite versatile.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

On their turn, players must use all the dice of one number to bet on the casino of that number.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card. The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of barracking.  The Slot Machine is like a seventh casino, except that it can hold dice of any number, but each number can only be added once (though a player must add all the dice they have of that number).  The game was a lot of chaotic fun with with lots of chit-chat and before long we had worked our way through the card deck and spent an hour doing it.  Although there is a lot of down-time with so many players, it didn’t seem to matter very much and it was quite relaxing to chat about things.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We found Slot Machine definitely added a useful extra option to the game, however, the “wild cards” were less interesting.  This inspired a discussion about the value or otherwise of expansions.  In an evening essentially devoted to expansions, it was interesting consider whether the addition of expansions took a simple game that everyone liked and made it unnecessarily more complex, or whether it breathed new life into a game people had become tired of.  In the case of Ticket to Ride at least, it was clear that with a game that players had become almost too familiar with, the extra maps provided a nice alternative.  Meanwhile, the game was providing an interesting background to the discussion and the end results were almost incidental.  Magenta redeemed herself after the disastrous ticket fiasco, finishing with $390,000 and third.  Second place went to Red with $420,000, but with her second victory of the night, Blue took home the bacon with $460,000, more than twice that of last place.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

Learning outcome:  Germans *do* have a sense of humour!