Tag Archives: Camel Up

4th August 2020 (Online)

Blue and Burgundy got going early to set up the game on Tabletop Simulator, but were progressively joined by Pink, Black and Purple and eventually, everyone else.  Mulberry dropped in to say “Hi!” but was suffering from her recent change in time-zone, so soon waved goodbye.  There was a bit of chit-chat about people returning to work and how it interefered with thier social lives, but once everyone had settled down, we started the “Feature Game” which was Finstere Flure (aka Fearsome Floors).

Finstere Flure
– Image by boardGOATS

Finstere Flure is a relatively simple race type game, where players are trying to get two of their family of pieces from one side of Prince Fieso’s Fortress to the other.  Unfortunately, the pillared dungeon is occupied by a not over-bright monster that is trying to eat people.  Finstere Flure only plays seven and the resolution of the web cameras we’ve been using means that it wouldn’t be possible for people to see very well.  For these reasons, people were playing in household teams and we used Tabletop Simulator on the Steam platform, piped through Microsoft Teams to display the game (which worked quite well when we played both Camel Up and Tsuro).

Finstere Flure
– Image by boardGOATS

This was more complicated than most of the “Roll and Write” type games we have played recently, but we felt a bit of variety would be a good thing.  In Finstere Flure, each player/household team have three double-sided pieces that they are trying to move from one side of the dungeon to the other.  On their turn, players move one of their pieces and then flip it over.  Each side has a number on it with the total summing to seven.  However, in a similar way to Echidna Shuffle, some pieces alternate slow movement with quick movement (six on one side and one on the other for example) while others move at a more steady pace (alternately moving three and four spaces).

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Players continue to take turns until all their pieces have been moved and turned over, after which the monster moves.  All the monsters move in the same way, but the one we chose was “Slenderman” because he was most visible when viewed from above using the simulator.  Slenderman has a deck of eight cards which dictate how far he moves.  When he moves he looks ahead, left and then right and if he sees one person, he turns towards them and takes one step before looking again and moving.  If he sees two or more people, he turns towards the closest and moves towards them.  If he the people he sees are the same distance away, he carries on moving straight ahead.  He never looks behind, and he cannot see diagonally (there are pillars in the way).

Finstere Flure
– Image by boardGOATS

Sometimes, the monster moves a given number of steps and others he keeps moving until he catches a set number of pieces.  During the game, the monster works through his deck twice—during the first pass, any pieces he catches are returned to the start, on the second pass, they are removed from the game.  There are a couple of other little rules however.  For example, there are obstacles in the dungeon, namely boulders and pools of blood (or jelly, whichever players think might be more slippery).  Players can push boulders about and use them to mess with each other’s plans, or slip on the jelly to move further on their turn.

Finstere Flure
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can only move boulders when the space behind it is unoccupied, however, and although they can pass through a space occupied by another player, they cannot finish their turn sharing a space.  The monster, Slenderman, on the other hand, is bigger and stronger, so can move more than one boulder at a time.  Also, if someone gets trapped between a rock and a hard place, he can squash them, or even pulverise rocks if he isn’t minded to change direction when pushing them into a wall.  He can also teleport from one side of the dungeon to the other if he walks into a wall.  This can spell disaster for players who thought their pieces were safe, a long way away from him.

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Team Purply-Black (owners of a hard copy and thus most experienced) went first, bravely moving one of their clerics into the unknown.  They were followed by Burgundy.  It was at this point that we realised something specific to the Tabletop Simulator that we hadn’t spotted during testing:  the reverse, “dark sides” of the pieces are all black and they are almost impossible to distinguish.  So, Blue made a quick modification to some of the pieces, making some hexagons and some squares to make them easier to identify.

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Play was a little slow with people having to describe which piece they wanted to move and where they wanted to move it to.  Fortunately, the original, individual artwork on the pieces on the hard copy of the game had been included in the electronic version, so we had something to describe.  It was about this time that we discovered that Burgundy knew the names of all the Addams Family characters played by Team Slightly-Lilacy-Green.  Clearly Burgundy has hidden depths!

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Lime was the first to get one of his pieces eaten, and also the second.  He wasn’t alone however, as almost everyone had at least one piece eaten at some point and most had several munched.  In fact, it turned out that Slenderman was very hungry; when he ate five pieces in one turn, Pine commented that he was in danger of becoming “Porkyman”!  The chaos was fun, so much so that at one point, Ivory was heard to say, “What can I do to get more carnage?”

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Since we were forced to focus on the characters (especially when they were showing their “dark side”, there was a lot of chit chat about them and some of them were even given names, like Team Purply-Black’s “Roger the Chorister” and Pine’s “Geeky-boy”.  Team Slightly-Blue-but-mostly-Pink were playing with the “Three Ages of Elvis”: “Young Elvis”, “Prime Elvis”, and “Burger Elvis” (or “Elvis on the toilet” given his pained expression).  We always have fun picking on Green, but the largely solitaire games we’ve played recently don’t lend themselves to it.  This game gave everyone a much missed opportunity, and with him playing as Team Only-a-Slightly-Lilacy-Shade-of-Green, everyone grabbed the chance with both hands.

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

It was just as Morticia was about to be “din-dins” (again) that the program crashed.  When we first started holding online games nights we worried a lot about the “tech” and whether it would hold up.  Aside from a few issues with Ivory and Lime struggling to stay in the same Teams Meeting together a few weeks back, mostly it has been fine though.  This crash looked like it might be game over though and, according to the chat, we were not alone.  Burgundy had played a few games with another group (including Terraforming Mars) and said Tabletop Simulator did that from time to time and that it usually came back after a few minutes.  So we waited.

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from
Tabletop Simulator on Steam

And we waited some more.  People took the opportunity to get drinks etc., and we continued to wait.  Nothing happened so eventually we decide to restart the Server and see if it continued where we’d left off, only to find the game had been auto-saved a couple of moves before the crash.  So we were off again getting in each other’s way.  Despite picking on Green as much as we could, nothing could stop him getting Gomez out of the dungeon first.  Morticia and Wednesday were a very long way from giving him a second though.  In fact, it looked like Team Purply-Black were going to take it.  They had “Roger the Chorister” and “Parson Snows” very close to the exit with the ability to escape on the next turn, and “Paul Wicker the Tall Vicar” not far behind.  It was then that everyone independently decided that it was the duty of all gamers to make life as difficult as possible for those winning.

Finstere Flure on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

So, first Burgundy used one of his geeks to push a boulder in “Parson Snows’ ” way and then parked the geek in the exit space.  In response to Pine’s cry of, “It’s now or never!”, “Young Elvis”  moved another boulder and effectively sealed off the exit until the next round.  This gave everyone an opportunity to gather in the corner ready to pounce should the opportunity arise.  Inevitably (since he had a piece camped on the exit space), Burgundy was the next to get someone one out, and then the flood gates opened.  “Young Elvis” was quickly followed by Pine’s Dog and “Roger the Chorister”. Eventually, the inevitable happened and Burgundy got his second Geek home bringing the end of the game.  People didn’t seem keen to stop, and Pink was pleased to be able to announce “Elvis has left the building!” next.

Finstere Flure
– Image by boardGOATS

It was clear that from there it all really depended on turn order and that was no fun, so we finished at that point.  It had been a long game with a lot of downtime, but it had been fun too, and quite different to the “multiplayer solitaire” games we’ve played a lot recently (i.e. Noch Mal!, Second Chance and Cartographers), which made a nice change.  Tabletop Simulator takes a lot of practice though and even then definitely has the “Marmite factor”.  Indeed, Burgundy dislikes it so much that he’s stopped gaming with another online group that use it exclusively, which is very sad.  We are using it in a different way, and very occasionally, so it is probably just about manageable, but it will definitely be a while before we try it again.

Chess on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

With Finstere Flure taking a long time, Ivory and Lime took their leave, leaving seven for one quick game of 6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena.  This is now our most played game, beating other favourites like Bohnanza and Splendor, and if the situation doesn’t change, it will likely get the chance to build up a healthy lead.  Although we’ve not tired of it, last time we tried the “Professional Variant” on Board Game Arena and that definitely added new interest.  Although we all said six was the maximum we’d want to play this crazy version with, everyone who had experienced it before wanted to try again and we all wanted to share our new-found fun with Green who had missed out last time.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic game is very simple:  Players simultaneously choose a card then, starting with the lowest, in sequence, they are added to the four rows on the table.  If anyone’s card is the sixth in a row, instead they take the pre-existing cards and their card becomes the first in the new row.  In the “Professional Variant”, cards can be added to both ends.  Again, if this card is the sixth, the other cards are added to that player’s scoring pile and that forms a new row.  It might be thought that this would be predictable so nobody would do this.  However, if a player tries to play low (or is forced to) and is undercut by another, this is exactly what happens.  And when it does, it causes complete chaos for everyone.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

This time, Pine started off leading with Black just behind in second.  In fact, Black was within one point of taking the lead until the cat came in and he started picking up cards.  The wheels dropped off for Pine too and he went from the lead to the back in only a couple of rounds, leaving others to fight for the lead.  Green (now playing on his own as Lilac had gone to bed), was somewhat taken aback by the new version and had much the same initial response to the new variant as everyone else had last time.  It isn’t random chaos though, it is definitely predictable, but it is certainly much, much harder to predict.  As a result, players need a sort of sixth sense and a lot of luck to surf the madness successfully.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Pine managed to stabilise his game and, having gone from the front of the pack to the back was working his way back up the field when Purple brought the game to an end.  It had always looked likely that she would win the “race to zero”, especially when she managed to pick up sixteen nimmts in a single turn—possibly a record for us.  So, when Purple picked up five with her final card, that gave her what is likely another new record of minus thirty-five.  In this game the winner is largely incidental, but it was close with Blue taking it, just three nimmts clear of Pink in second and eight ahead of the “almost always there or there abouts” Pine, in third.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

Everyone was quite tired so we just chatted starting with the Beirut explosion, news of which had come in while we’d been playing, and with footage that was quite remarkable.  As the mood shifted from buoyant to sombre, Pine said he was time for him to leave as he had a meeting in the morning.  Green interrupted, “Before you go, can I ask a recycling question?  How do you recycle the wax from cheese?”  That lightened the mood again and it was brightened further by Pine’s reply of, “How do you think?  Or you can make candles…!”  Somewhat from left of field, Purple then added, “But if you make candles, don’t light lots of them then leave the house to burn down while you go and propose to your girlfriend!”  Everyone was very bemused wondering what Black had done when he proposed, but eventually it became clear that it wasn’t personal experience, just a news story…  With that, Pine left and everyone else chatted about options and games for the coming weeks as people drifted off to bed.

Lots of Candles Make Fire
– Image from bbc.co.uk

Learning Outcome:  Slender monsters can eat an awful lot and retain their sylphlike figure.

Boardgames in the News: New Editions that aren’t an Improvement

Everyone has experienced a disappointing remake of a favourite film; while we always hope for an improvement, only occasionally do we get one.  Board games have a similar problem, but as with films, things are often not clear cut.  For example, the new version of Camel Up arguably has nicer art and a better pyramid dice shaker than the original.  The Crazy Camel mini expansion and the partnership betting (from the original Supercup expansion) also add quite a bit to the game play, especially at higher player counts, but the money isn’t as easy to handle and the dice and camels themselves are plastic and don’t feel as nice.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Similarly, the recent editions of Glen More (Glen More II: Chronicles) and Snowdonia (the Deluxe Master set) are beautiful and include lots of extra content.  As previously discussed, this is at the expense of shelf-space though, and portability which means they are less likely to get played.  In other cases, the revision is considered a definite step back.  For example, the revised edition of Colosseum by TMG is widely believed to compare unfavourably with the original Days of Wonder edition.

– Image by boardGOATS

In a recent new edition of Monopoly, female players initially receive $1,900 with a salary of $240, while male players start with $1,500 receiving $200 when they pass “Go”.  On the plus-side, as part of the publicity, three teenage entrepreneurs received a grant of $20,580 each to invest in their own inventions.  Otherwise, Ms Monopoly is widely thought to be hugely patronising to half the population while claiming to celebrate empowering women, something that is apparent in the adverts.

– Video by Hasbro on youtube.com

These days, a lot of gaming is being done online.  One new electronic game that has been seen as a retrograde step is the new Scrabble app, Scrabble Go.  This is a new product that, thanks to changes in licensing, replaces the previous offering from Electronic Arts (EA).  The problem is that the new version seems to have been designed to appeal to the Candy Crush generation with vivid colours, treasure-style rewards and in-app purchases.  Unfortunately, Scrabble is a very traditional game and its players generally don’t appreciate that approach.  To date, nearly eight thousand of these have registered their disgust through an online petition.

Scrabble Go
– Image by boardGOATS from play.google.com

The Carcassonne app has also received a similar licensing-inspired change and although the new Asmodee version is less offensive, many seem to prefer the older, Coding Monkeys version.  So, before deciding to upgrade a game, keep in mind that a new version, often isn’t a better one.

14th April 2020 (Online)

Social contact is really important for mental health and board games are a great medium for that.  Unfortunately, physical proximity isn’t an option at the moment, so we’ve moved our games nights online.  Despite the limitations experienced last time, the overwhelming response from the group was that we should persist with online meetings.  With this in mind, and the recent special offer for Tabletop Simulator on the Steam platform, we’d had a couple of trial runs to see if that would work for the group.  Tabletop Simulator is a “sandbox” environment, which provides an electronic rendering of the game and tools to move things around.

Tabletop Simulator Splash Screen
– Image from steampowered.com

The strength of Tabletop Simulator, but also its weakness, is that people have to do everything themselves.  Everything.  This is good because it means the game can be played according to any rules people want, however, it also means there is a substantial overhead, which is just that bit too much for players not used to computer gaming.  Additional hurdles included installing software (a problem on some work laptops) and the intricacies of actually getting it running which required an hour or so tutorial to get going.  Unfortunately, these were just too large for us, especially for a group meeting only once a fortnight.

Chess on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

Last time, we had played a simple physical game that we knew well, Las Vegas using cameras.  Seeing the “table” had been difficult though, limited by the resolution of the cameras and lighting.  So to improve things and get others involved, we decided to go with a compromise:  some people would run the game on Tabletop Simulator (providing a better visual experience), but the game would then be “streamed” to the group through Microsoft Teams, using the technology everyone was already familiar with.  This time, we were more ambitious: the “Feature Game“, Camel Up has more moving parts and lots of people hadn’t played it before.  It still fits the two key requirements, however, lots of people can play (especially with the Supercup expansion), and it has minimal “hidden information”, so it would still work with a couple of minor tweaks.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Camel Up is a simple enough family game, so teaching, even online, wasn’t too difficult.  It is a race game, where people are betting on racing camels and the player with the most money at the end of the race is the winner.  On their turn players have four options.  Firstly, they can roll dice to move a camel.  In the physical game, this is done with a special pyramid dice shaker that holds a die for each of the five camels and spits them out one at a time.  We found using the online rendering of this very difficult, and wanted to involve the players more, so we used the real shaker to deliver dictate the number and players rolled their own dice at home to see how far they moved.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Alternatively, players could place a tile on the track which would earn them money whenever anything landed on it and move those camels forwards or backwards one space (depending which way up the tile had been placed).  The other two options involved betting:  players could bet on the winner of the leg (i.e. after all the dice had been rolled once) or the eventual winner or loser of the overall race.  A simple roll and move would not make betting very interesting, but in Camel Up, when a camel lands on the same space as another camel, it is placed on top of the other piece.  Then, if the lower camel moves before the top one does, it gets a free ride.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Betting on the winner of a leg was easy to implement—each player had a space on the simulator and betting tiles (and pyramid tiles showing players had rolled dice) were moved to that area.  Betting on the eventual winner/loser was more difficult.  In the physical game, players have five cards which they play onto the winner or loser pile.  At the end of the game, these are evaluated with the first player to bet correctly getting the most money, continuing on a sliding scale, with those who bet incorrectly losing their stake.  Obviously, this wasn’t going to work for us, so instead, one person made a note of who placed bets and people kept track of their own choices (as well as their money), and we just tallied up at the end.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue, Pink, and Mulberry started setting up from around 7pm.  We used the expanded board from the expansion to make the race a little longer, but decided that any of the other modules would just make it too complicated this time.  This was a very hard decision, because the game can become very random with lots of players and the expansions do a lot to mitigate that.  We had already increased the complexity considerably compared with last time, and that would have been a step too far this time.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

As people joined the “meeting”, people chatted, mostly about nothing, largely because not a lot had happened for most people.  Blue commented on the lovely large rainbow image in the window at Lime’s house (drawn by Little Lime), and Pine commented on how nice it was to be home now his caring duties were over.  Green was the last to join the party, and he immediately asked when Pine was going to get back which led to much hilarity as the previous conversation was reprised.  The procession of soft toys reappeared:  Mulberry showed off her Pony, apparently called Macaroni (after Yankee Doodle), and Pine introduced us to his Gremlin, who apparently wants to join us at The Jockey when it re-opens and would like to be known as “Beige”.

Beige
– Image by Beige’s “Wrangler”

Having already set the game up for eight, Green and Lilac decided to play as a team, especially as they were still to eat their supper.  Blue was about half way through the rules explanation, when, much to everyone’s delight, Burgundy arrived.  He didn’t have a microphone, though he could hear everything people said.  This created a weird juxtaposition of speaking and reading replies, which occasionally became typing (especially for Blue) when confusion set in.  Playing would have been quite difficult as well as needing more set up, but it was lovely to have Burgundy back as we’d all missed him last time, and people couldn’t resist chatting on the text channel in the background.  We will definitely sort out a microphone for him for next time though.

Camel Up
– Image by boardGOATS

From there on, it was disorganised chaos mediated by camels.  Pine decided to share his packet of Tangy Cheese Doritos with everyone, and the disembodied crunching and rustling was quite something.  He blamed it on Beige, but no-one was fooled.  This was followed by someone (possibly Black) making a strange bonging noise that to Pink sounded like a bell from a traditional, mechanical signal box.  He does have a bit of a thing about trains though.  Meanwhile, on the chat, there were discussions about shopping and Pine’s burping camel impersonations.  Clearly the Doritos were working their magic.

– From Peter Jordan on youtube.com

The game was something of a side-show to all this “excitement”.  In the first round, aside from a couple of people placing oasis/mirage tiles, everyone just moved camels.  Having seen how the race worked though, the betting really got going on the second round.  The tech, though not perfect, worked well enough, thanks largely to Mulberry’s efficiency.  And although the game wasn’t a “meaty”, “manly” game, being together doing something a little different was the most important thing.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

The betting on the end game really told the story of the race.  Mulberry was the first to bet on a win, quickly followed by Pine, Black, Purple, Pink and Blue, with everyone gambling on the green or white camel making it over the line first.  Pine was the first to have another shot, but still didn’t get it right.  Betting on the loser, on the other hand, was started early by Lime and quickly followed by Pink, Black, Blue and Mulberry all of whom bet on the yellow camel to stay at the back of the pack.  That camel seemed to have three legs, or maybe a pulling rider, or perhaps it had eaten too many of Green’s sausages.  Whatever, it was definitely not a contender, and everyone agreed with Purple who commented that it should retire to a camel sanctuary.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

The front of the race was much tighter, and as the probability field gradually whittled down the likely order of finishers as it became clear that the game was coming to an end.  The order of movement was all important and players jumped in with their final bets on who would win the race, but the final leg.  Lime was the first to bet on the eventual winner, giving him eight Egyptian pounds, followed by Blue, and Pine with diminishing returns.  Green realised that betting on the winner of the leg was more lucrative by this point than betting on the end of the race, and Pink followed suit, leaving Mulberry to finish the race.

Camel Up on Tabletop Simulator
– Image by boardGOATS from Tabletop Simulator on Steam

A quick run-down of the final finances showed that Pink was a single pound ahead of Green who who posted an initial, competitive total winnings of twenty Egyptian pounds.  Lime, the first to successfully predict both the overall winner and loser finished some way ahead though, with takings of twenty-eight pounds.  Pine excused his particularly poor showing by saying he thought camel racing was cruel.  From there, the evening mostly descended into verbal and text chatter as people discovered and shared emojis (Pine was the first to find camels, but only in camel colour) and stickers, and then soft toys… again.

Pikachu
– Image by Mulberry

Mulberry suggested that when The Jockey re-opens we should have a “BYOB” party and “Bring Your Own Buddy”.  Burgundy apparently misheard and there was more hilarity when the sad message appeared on the chat, “no bunny”.  Green saw Mulberry’s Pikachu and said Pokemon Go was a problem in the current climate.  That’s not the case for Mulberry apparently, who commented that she has a “Pokey-stop” outside her house.  For those who were not familiar with the game Pokemon Go, that just sounded very smutty.  Mulberry shared a “Let Me Google That For You” link, but it didn’t seem to help, and things only got worse when she tried to explained what she did with her “Pokey-balls”…

Yucata.de
– Image from yucata.de

Time was getting on, and meeting on line is surprisingly tiring so eventually, people sadly departed, leaving Pink, Blue, Black and Purple to continue the seemingly eternal game of Snowdonia they had started two weeks earlier, on Yucata.de.  Snowdonia is a worker placement game that we’ve played quite a bit as a group, where players are building the rack-railway up the famous mountain.  The basic idea is that each player has two workers and they take it in turns to place these on one of the seven options:  gather resources; remove rubble; convert resources; lay track; build part of a station; pick up a contract card, and move their surveyor.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Each of these actions have a different number of available spaces, so for example, only three workers can lay track in any given round.  During the game, the weather changes, increasing and decreasing the work-rate so that players can build that track faster, or slower, or if it is foggy, not at all.  Contract cards give players points for successfully completing certain tasks, but can also be used to give an enhanced action instead.  The game ends when all the track has been built to the summit, Yr Wyddfa.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

This game was started after the last games night, so it was only fitting that is should be finished on a games night too.  It had started quite slowly – Yucata is quite different to Tabletop Simulator because it is much less flexible, but does ensure players follow the rules and can play turns for them when they have no decision to make.  This can help speed things along, but can also be confusing at times when the game state changes more than expected between turns.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Playing a strategy game over such a long time period proved difficult for those not used to it.  This is mainly because players lost the thread of the “narrative”, and ended up playing tactically for the short term rather than following a long-term plan.  Unsurprisingly, Black, who plays quite a lot of games asynchronously on Yucata, struggled least with this.  He was also must familiar with the environment and got off to a flying start.  Blue prioritised getting a train, but discovered that it didn’t do quite what she had in mind when she tried to use it a day or two later.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Pink was the first to move his surveyor, but then completely forgot about it.  He only realised it had been passed by everyone else’s about half-way up the mountain in the final round, by which time it was too late to do anything about it and the others were all at the summit.  Blue had been horribly inefficient in places due to losing the thread of the game and additionally couldn’t quite build the track she needed to fulfil her most lucrative contract.  According to Black, Purple was “playing online like she plays in real life”, but she was definitely doing something right as she put a spurt on at the end laying track.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Black started fastest, took the lead and then stayed there, but contracts can be a big game changer in Snowdonia.  This time though, Black completed two contracts adding a total of forty-six points to his twenty-one for getting his surveyor to the top of the mountain and forty-five points collected for building during the game.  The total made him a run-away winner with a total of a hundred and twenty-one, miles ahead of Purple who sneaked into second place a couple of points in front of Blue.  And with that it was time for the long walk to bed.

Snowdonia on yucata.de
– Image by boardGOATS from yucata.de

Learning Outcome:  A simulator can still be used even when most people don’t have access.

20th October 2015

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

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

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

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

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

There were several new games too though, in particular:

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

Rockwell!
– Image by BGG contributor Rayreviewsgames

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

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Codenames
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor aleacarv

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

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Ceryon

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor helioa

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor DrGrayrock

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Garry

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

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

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

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

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

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Boardgames in the News: So, What Are Euro-Games?

A couple of months ago at our game night, one of the gamers commented that there were a lot of good games from Europe.  This prompted a discussion about “traditional games”, “Euro-games”, “American games” and their relative merits.  Most people know all about traditional games even if they don’t know what gamers mean when they use the term:  traditional games are the games we all used to play as a child including Scrabble, Cluedo and love it or loath it, the dreaded Monopoly.  Some people also include in this list games like Chess, Go and Backgammon as well as traditional card games like Whist, Hearts and Rummy.

Go
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

But the front page of the boardGOATS website says, “We generally prefer to play “Euro” style games,” so, what do gamers mean by “Euro-games” or “Euro style games”?  Well, most of the traditional games we used to play as children were produced by publishers in the United States of America, companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  Incidentally, both these companies are now part of Hasbro, but the aggregation of smaller companies to form a larger one is a topic that’s been covered elsewhere.  While the “English” market was dominated by big players that concentrated on producing a few top sellers, in Germany there was no such dominance.  The effect this had was that the market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

This coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon. It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, highlighted a range of games from Rummikub in 1980, Torres in 2000 and Camel Up last year.  Over the years, the red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has become a mark of boardgaming quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Therefore, the qualities espoused by these awards heavily influence the concept of the “Euro-game”.

Rummykub
– Image by BGG contributor OldestManOnMySpace

But what are these qualities that make a game “European”?  Well, that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, describes them as characterised by “simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction and abstract physical components”.   It goes on to say, “Such games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.”  On the whole this is not a bad summary, except that it is not very specific:  how simple are “simple rules” and how long are “short to medium playing times”?  Clearly these features are more about contrast, and although there are lots of different types of games including party games and war games, this comparison is usually between European style ames and American-style Games, aka “Ameri-Trash”.

Last Night on Earth
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Bilben04

Although common, use of the term Ameri-Trash (or Ameritrash) is controversial as some see it as unnecessarily negative, however, although other terms have been suggested none have proved as popular or as persistent.  The term itself is over fifteen years old and was probably originally used disparagingly and applied to genuinely bad American games as a comparison with the much higher professional standards of games in Germany at the time.  Since then, the scope has been expanded and many fans of those American games have adopted the term as a badge of honour.

Merchant of Venus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

American-style games tend to be long, usually over two hours, and classically involve a lot of luck and often feature dice rolling.  They are often considered to be a lot less “cerebral” or “puzzle-like” and, as a result, are sometimes described as “more fun”.  The reference to “trash” may in part reflect the style of the pieces which tend to include a lot of plastic pieces to go with the dice.  There is also often a lot of direct conflict in American-style games, where European games tend to be much more family friendly with indirect player interaction.  Classic Ameri-Trash games include:  Arkham Horror, Merchant of Venus, Cosmic Encounter and Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game.  Sometimes there is also a book or film tie-in leading to games like Battlestar Galactica and Dune.  Even just comparing the titles with those of classic Euro-games like Puerto Rico, El Grande, Tikal and Agricola, the difference can clearly be felt.

Arkham Horror
– Image by BGG contributor igorigorevich

The most essential part of American-style games is the theme, however, which is often integral to the game mechanisms.  This encourages people fantasize they are part of the action when playing the game.  The miniatures, the long playing times, the complex interwoven rule-set and the interaction (often culminating in players being eliminated) all combine to draw players into the drama of the game.  In contrast, for Euro-games, the mechanisms are the focus, and the games can often be re-themed without much effort.  The theme is therefore used more as an introduction to the more abstract European strategy games, making them more accessible, rather than being an essential part of the emotional investment.

Relic Runners
– Image by BGG contributor cnidius

But things are not as simple as that.  The nature of modern boardgaming encourages cross-fertilisation.  There are more highly-themed, strategy-games available now and more long, strategic games with miniatures – these are sometimes referred to as “hybrid games”.  For example, games produced by the Days of Wonder (based in the USA), like Ticket to Ride and Relic Runners have a lot of plastic pieces, though the games themselves are quite strategic and generally run for no more than an hour.  Similarly, games like Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Space Alert use real-time and a sound-track to draw the players in, yet they are both short (Escape takes just ten minutes to play) and have no player elimination.  Vlaada Chvátil’s Dungeon Lords series of games, also have a lot of theme, but are also playable in a manageable time-frame, have a lot of strategy and a reasonably streamlined set of rules.

Dungeon Lords
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor PaulGrogan

Confusingly however, “hybrid” has more recently also come to mean games that include some sort of mobile device application (and thus require a smart phone, tablet or similar).  Now, lots of games have Apps that help them a long a little (e.g. One Night Ultimate Werewolf), but games like Alchemists and XCOM: The Board Game don’t really function properly without them.  The question is, are these still boardgames?  In truth, they are a sort of hybrid computer-boardgame, but the point is, however appropriate the name, it is all about the game and the other people playing:  the bottom line is, if you enjoy playing it, it doesn’t matter what it is called.

Alchemists
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor Mouseketeer

Boardgames in the News: Spiel des Jahres Awards

This week, Colt Express won the Spiel des Jahres Award.  Although it may seem strange, this German award is highly sought after and is the most coveted award in the world-wide world of boardgames.  The reason for this goes back nearly forty years when the “English” market was dominated by companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  These concentrated on producing a few top sellers, however, in Germany there was no such dominance.  So, the German market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.  This, coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry, encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon.

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, began in 1978, with the stated purpose of rewarding excellence in game design, and promoting top-quality games in the German market.  The red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has since become a mark of quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Thus, the award has been such a success that it is said a nomination can increase sales from a few hundred to tens of thousands and the winning game can be expected to sell up to half a million copies or more.

El Grande
– Image by BGG contributor Domostie

Over the last fifteen years, years, the Spiel des Jahres has generally gone from highlighting games like El Grande, Tikal and Torres (1996, 1999 & 2000), to rewarding lighter games like Dixit, Qwirkle and Camel Up (2010, 2011 & 2014).  The problem was particularly brought to light in 2002 when Puerto Rico, arguably one of the best games ever made was not rewarded because it was perceived as too complex.  The problem reared its ugly head again in 2008, but this time the jury awarded Agricola a special “Complex Game” award.  These two games are widely considered to be the pinnacle of “Euro-Games”: between them they’ve held the top position on the BoardGameGeek website for the best part of ten years, yet neither were awarded the top prize. The problem was that these games were not mainstream enough for the German family game market:  they were too complex for those families making their annual purchase. On the other hand, for frequent and dedicated boardgamers, these Spiel des Jahres games are too light.  So, for this reason, the Kennerspiel des Jahres or “Connoisseurs’ Game of the Year” was introduced in 2011 and for more serious gamers, this has largely superseded the Spiel des Jahres.  This year it was awarded to Broom Service, a reimplementation of Witch’s Brew which was itself nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2008.

Adel Verpflichtet
– Image by BGG contributor Henco

The Kennerspiel des Jahres is not the only prestigious award available to strategy games however.  In 1990, the German magazine “Die Pöppel-Revue”, introduced the Deutscher Spiele Preis or “German Game Prize”.  This is announced in October every year at the Internationale Spieltage in Essen.  In contrast to the Spiel des Jahres, the Deutscher Spiele Preis has gone from rewarding lighter games like Adel Verpflichtet (aka Hoity Toity, in 1990) and our group’s current favourite filler, 6 Nimmt! (winner in 1994) , to highlighting games like Russian Railroads and Terra Mystica (in the last two years).

Deutsche Spiele Preis
– Image from wikimedia.org

Boardgames in the News: Confusion at The Telegraph!

Anyone who plays modern boardgames knows how our hobby has been growing and growing.  Games like Carcassonne and The Settlers of Catan are now available in Waterstones and WHSmith, there has been a series of regular comments in The Guardian, there are repeatedly TV appearances, and boardgame cafés are sprouting up all over the place.  It seems strange then that last week, Harry Wallop from The Telegraph announced that “Card games and board games are dying out and it’s no great loss”.

Snap
– Image by BGG contributor loopoocat

The basis of this report is a survey carried out by Barclaycard which apparently indicated that games like Old Maid, Happy Families and Snap are in danger of dying out.  Strangely, on the same day, Martin Chilton, the Telegraph online Culture Editor reported that 67 per cent of the children surveyed said that they would like to learn how to play traditional games.  The really annoying thing about all this is that they focus solely on “traditional games”:  Martin Chilton’s article is entitled “The five best board games” and lists them as Chess, Scrabble, Monopoly, Cluedo and Backgammon.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

On closer inspection, however, Harry Wallop’s article does include a link to a more interesting list of fifteen party games, including Pandemic, Camel (C)Up and Biblios.  While their definition of “Party Games” clearly leaves a lot to be desired, it is clear that someone at The Telegraph at least has heard of modern games.  Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of this though, is the response to Martin Chilton’s article in the comments section which includes a nearly eighty passionate responses pointing out better, modern, “classic games” and where to find information about them.

Biblios
– Image by BGG contributor creatsia

Let’s hope Mr Chilton and Mr Wallop read the comments and write a better article soon!

Spiel des Jahres Nominations – 2015

Each year a jury of German-speaking board game critics (from Germany, Austria, Switzerland), review all the games released in Germany in the preceding twelve months.  Their job is a really important one amongst gamers, because they award the coveted Spiel des Jahres, the German Game of the Year.  There are also other awards including the Kinderspiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres (Childrens’ and Connoisseurs’ Games of the Year).   These awards are highly lucrative for the winners as many German families look for the red logo when choosing games to buy at Christmas.

Spiel des Jahres
– Image from spieldesjahres.de

The criteria used by the judges include:

  • game concept (originality, playability, game value),
  • design (functionality, workmanship),
  • layout (box, board, rules),
  • rule structure (composition, clearness, comprehensibility).

The announcement of the Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres awards will be made early in July.  Last year, the winner was Camel Up with Splendor as runner-up and Istanbul taking the Kennerspiel des Jahres award.  The nominees for this year have just been announced and this year, unusually, we haven’t played any of them in the group yet.  However, one of our more popular two-player games, Patchwork was included as a recommended game and we are planning to play one of the nominees, Machi Koro, this week.

18th April 2015 @ “The Mix”

The drop in gaming session at The Mix in Wantage was a great success.   It started quietly, but there were lots of new people there and lots of games were played.  Green arrived first and was setting up tables when Blue and Pink arrived.  By the time the first punters arrived PitchCar, Riff Raff and Camel Up had been set up and other games were out ready to be tried.  Before long Purple and Black had also arrived and there was a steady stream of games being played including Toc Toc Woodman, Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Cube Quest, and a steady stream of pieces flying across the room.  Old favourites like Dobble, Incan Gold, The Great Balloon Race and Carcassonne also got an outing as well as the Lego game, UFO Attack.

The Great Balloon Race
– Image by boardGOATS

Thanks to everyone who came, both visitors and gamers – it was great to see it so well attended.  Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, so it’s definitely something we’d be interested in doing again in a few months time.

15th July 2014

This week we started with a quick game of Kittens in a Blender.  This is a light card game, if one with a slightly ghoulish theme.  The idea is that on their turn, players must play two cards from their hand of six cards.  If they choose to play a kitten card it can go onto the counter in the middle of the table; into the relative safety of the box, or straight into the blender to await its fate.  Other cards allow Kittens to be moved one space from the box to the counter or the counter to the blender vice versa.  And then there are the blend cards, which cause any kittens in the blender to be blitzed, the kittens in the box to be permanently rescued and the kittens on the counter to move to the blender to become the next in line for “kitten smoothy” (if they aren’t rescued in time).  Players score points for every kitten of their own colour that they rescue, and lose points for those that meet a less pleasant end.

Kittens in a Blender

Yellow started out picking on Blue and Orange kittens and, well, Red ones too.  So before long, everyone retaliated and the fur began to fly as it all got ugly quite quickly.  Orange managed to do the least to offend everyone else and finished miles ahead of everyone else with fourteen points while everyone else struggled (or failed) to finish in paw-sitive figures.

Kittens in a Blender

Everyone else was here by now, so next up was our “Feature Game”, the new Spiel des Jahres winner, Camel (C)Up.  There has been much debate about the correct name as the box is ambiguous.  It was originally released as “Camel Cup”, presumably to reflect the Australian camel race, however, the Spiel des Jahres citation clearly calls it “Camel Up”, which at first sight seemed strange, however, once we started playing it became clear why this name was appropriate.  The game consists of a race of five camels and players effectively bet on the leader and eventual outcome of the race.  Thus, on their turn players can do one of four things:  use the cool pyramid dice shaker to move a camel; bet on which camel will be in the lead at the end of the round; bet on the final outcome of the race (i.e. which camel will cross the line first triggering the game end, or which will be in last place when that happens), or place their oasis tile which can earn the owner money as well as help or hinder a winning/losing camel.

Camel Up

There are a couple of clever things about the game.  Firstly, the dice shaker:  this is a pyramid-shaped device, made out of card and held together with an elastic band.  The idea is that players shake it, turn it upside down and push the slider to let out just one die.  Although it malfunctioned a couple of times, in general, it works well.  As there are five dice (one per camel) and when a die is “rolled” it is removed from the shaker for the rest of the round,  this is used to determine the length of the round (or “leg”).  Next, when a camel moves onto another camel’s space it is stacked on top of it, then if the bottom camel moves, the top camel takes a ride.  This means that a riding camel can get an extra move, and stacks can contain any number of camels, so if a camel is lucky it can pick up a lot of extra moves.  Finally, the way the betting is handled means that players don’t have to worry about stakes and odds.  To bet on the outcome of a leg, players simply take a tile of the appropriate colour.  Since these are stacked with the highest value first, if that camel comes home first, that player gets more at the end of the round.  Similarly, the betting on the end of the race is done by players choosing a card from their hand of five (one per camel) and placing them in the “to win” stack or the “to lose” stack.  The earlier they are placed, the more the player wins (if they get it right of course!).

Camel Up

The game began with the the Blue and White camels getting a slight head start.  White made a surge forward and everyone made a dash for the White betting tiles, until one player put a mirage in front of it…  For some reason, although all the other camels had no difficulty jumping the mirage, the White one really struggled and quickly went from the front to the back, a problem exasperated as every other space now had a mirage tile on it.  The Yellow Camel managed to catch a couple of rides, and before anyone could do much about it, it was across the line, with it handing the win to the only two players who had played it before.

Camel Up

Time was getting on and we only had time for a short game before some of us had to leave, so we played Incan Gold.  This is a game we played quite a bit a year or so ago, but hasn’t  made it to the table in a while.  Basically it is a push your luck game, where players are mining for gold and gems.  Each player enters the mine and a card is drawn and placed to make a path; the value of the gems on the card is split equally amongst the players in the mine with any left overs placed on the card.  Players then get the option to leave the mine (sharing all the left-overs as they go), or stay in the hope of getting more treasure.  The snag is that in addition to gem cards of varying values, there are also “nasty cards”.  You can draw lots of different nasty cards, but if s second of the same time type is drawn, the mine collapses and anyone left in loses whatever they had collected in that round.  In this game, it was a tale of “nasty cards” as the first three rounds had at least two nasty cards in the first five every time.  So it was all a bit scrappy with everyone nervously leaving early.  Then, somehow, Orange managed to pull off a bit of a coup and got out of the mine with lots of booty, just before it collapsed.    It turned out the lead was unassailable and Orange pulled off her second victory of the night.

Incan Gold

Now much depleted in numbers, we decided to continue with the Spiel de Jahres theme and finished with a game of Splendor (one of the runners up).  We played this a few weeks ago and like  Camel Up, it is quite a simple game, but is much more strategic.  The idea is that players are gemstone dealers and can use gem-chips they have collected to purchase cards.  In turn, these cards allow players to buy more cards of a higher value, some of which come with extra prestige points.  The end of the game is triggered when the first player reaches fifteen points.  Black ran off with an early lead, however, while Purple struggled a little, Blue managed to catch up with a couple of high scoring cards.  By this time Green had got his engine working properly and started to catch Black.  It finished a very close game, but Black just managed to hold on, beating Green and Blue by one and two points respectively.  Inevitably we finished with a discussion as to whether we Camel Up or Splendor was the better game.  We concluded that while Camel Up was fun, with seven it was too chaotic so that the “sweet-spot” was probably four or five and it would probably be great fun with a family under those conditions.  For us, however, we enjoyed Splendor much more and it will no-doubt make a return.

Splendor

Learning Outcome:  Camel racing is fun, but trading gems is Splendid!