Tag Archives: Carcassonne

3rd September 2019

There were a lot of people feeding and food was a little delayed, so we didn’t start until gone 8pm.  At this point, people were keen to chat and almost everyone seemed interested in giving the “Feature Game”, Lords of Vegas, a go.  Although it involves dice, it is totally different to our old favourite, Las Vegas, and in fact, very different to pretty much anything else we have played too.  Although the game is very “rules-light”, it is still a bit of a “brain-burner” with the potential for inducing “analysis paralysis”.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of the game is that players are developers in Las Vegas in 1941.  The board depicts Highway 91, what will become known as “The Strip”, and the blocks either side, each divided into plots.  Players acquire these plots, build casinos, improve their casinos, take-over other casinos, and when desperate, gamble.  At the start of their turn, the active player turns over a card which indicates one plot and one of the five casinos.  The active player claims the plot by placing a clear plastic counter in their colour on it and then everyone receives income:  every plot owner gets $1,000,000 per plot, and then every casino that matches the card pays out cash (in our case, in poker chips) and points.

Poker Chips
– Image by boardGOATS

After everyone has received their income, the active player can do as many actions as they like, the only limit is what they can afford.  The first action is build on a plot they own:  they pay the amount of money listed on the board, chose a coloured casino tile and place it on the board together with a die of their colour showing the face depicted on the board.  The number shown is important for many reasons, but initially it indicates the income that the player will get when that casino pays out: one million dollars per pip shown.  The casino colour chosen can be the same as casino adjacent casinos, or different, which is a critical decision.  If it is the same, the two (or more) casinos merge and the owner of the die with the highest face value becomes The Boss of that casino.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The Boss gets victory points when that casino colour pays out, receiving points equal to the total number of plots the casino occupies.  Since The Boss controls the casino, their are things they can do that others cannot.  For example, they can choose to “remodel” the casino, changing the colour of all the tiles.  There is a cost, of course, five million dollars per space, but it can be worth it to force mergers giving more points.  The Boss can also “sprawl” their casino which means expand into neighbouring, unoccupied plots.  This is both costly and risky, but can be worth it to give a short term benefit or to merge casinos.  It is costly because the cost to build is twice the usual fee, and it is risky, because if the card that shows that plot is drawn later in the game, the player who draws the card replaces the die with one of their own.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Merging casinos are a vital part of the game because unusually, increments in the score track progressively increase.  So, at the bottom, the steps increase by a single point, but after eight, each step is two points, and after twenty the steps increase to three.  Since the points are added casino by casino (rather than summing them and adding them all at the same time), it is critical to match casino size to the current increment.  For example, two casinos of size “three” would add six points if the player were below eight points or above twenty.  However, if they were between eight and twenty, the same casinos would only be worth two each as the remainder would be lost as each casino is added.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, with the merging and taking over, the game is highly strategic with a sprinkle of luck from the card draw.  Perhaps the most important part of Lords of Vegas though are the gambling aspects. There are two:  firstly, once per turn, the active player can gamble at any casino by rolling two dice.  The odds are slightly in favour of The House, but it can be a good source of cash, as well as providing the opportunity to damage an opponent, as The Boss of that casino provides the pay out (though they can lay this off with the bank).  More importantly, any player can choose to “Reorganise” any casino they have a stake in, by paying a million dollars per pip to re-roll all the dice in that casino with the chance of control changing hands.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

So the game is not especially difficult to understand, but small changes can have a large impact.  As well as the mix of strategy, luck and gambling, there are a number of little things that really make the game sing.  For example, almost anything can be traded for almost anything else at any time, which enables players at the back to gang up on a run-away leader and neutralise the effect of overtly bad (or good) draws and dice rolls.  The quick description had most people interested in playing it, but Burgundy (who had played before) felt that it would be very chaotic with five, so in the end, Pine, Black, Red, Lime and Ivory left Blue, Burgundy, Mulberry and Purple to their visit to Nevada.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

The game started very slowly, with incomes small and investment correspondingly small.  Blue tried to increase her income by building her number of plots.  That probably wasn’t a good move, though she was able to build some cash and then invest heavily a couple of turns later.  Despite the lack of rules complexity, the groups still managed to make a mess of it:  when Reorganising, each die can only be rolled once per turn.  It was perhaps a good thing the messed this up though as otherwise Purple, Blue and Mulberry would have been deprived the chance of seeing Burgundy attempt to Reorganise a single two and re-roll a two three times.  Hilarity ensued when, a few turns later the casino had merged to form two-plot casino now with a two and a three and Burgundy chose to try Reorganising again, this time getting a two and a three and then a double three before finally settling for a one and a four!

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game progressed, the casinos merged and grew, with one particularly large “Sphynx Casino”, occupying five plots.  Blue, Burgundy and Mulberry all had an interest and re-rolled the five dice many, many times during the game, but despite his lack of success elsewhere, Burgundy mostly retained control.  The other side of Flamingo Road, Mulberry built a lovely casino, mostly uncontested.  The “Vega Casino” cards came out a lot at the start and since some cards are removed at random, it didn’t look a good gamble.  As a result, only Purple took the risk of investing and made a killing with her “Big Purple Casino” when the group kept drawing the Vega cards ending up with all nine putting in an appearance.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Mulberry and Burgundy stole a slight early march, but when the steps in the scoring track increased it became clear that this was an illusion and it was in fact a very close game as the leader’s jersey kept changing hands.  The balance of power was held by whoever was in charge of the Big Sphinx Casino, and Blue and Mulberry ganged up on Burgundy to try to break his hold on it.  First Blue rolled the dice and gave control to Mulberry only for Burgundy to wrest if from her and Mulberry to then give control to Blue.  In what turned out to be the final turn of the game, Blue gambled in Purple’s Big Green Vega Casino, won $10,000,000 and used it to remodel her small Sphinx Casinos and sprawl the Big Sphinx Casino into one extra space.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

This turned out to be critical, because the game ends when the “End of Game” card is drawn and all the casinos on the strip score for one final time.  That final sprawl gave an extra three points for the Big Sphinx which was just enough to cross the boundary from twenty-nine to thirty-two, breaking what would otherwise have been a three way tie.  Money is the tie-breaker, which meant that Burgundy just sneaked into second place $7,000,000 ahead of Purple, who would have been $20,000,000 better off if Blue had not won when she bet in her casino.

Lords of Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

All in all, it had been a lot of fun and everyone was agreed that they’d like to play it again, and that they’d play it differently next time.  It had been a really slow burner though and while the foursome had been gambling property in Vegas, the others had had time to play two games and get up to date with the Brexit riots and discuss all the possible outcomes—some  people even had time to check out the proxy voting and postal vote options and evaluate both options!

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

The group had started the evening with Ticket to Ride, the original USA version, rather than the more usual Europe version or the relatively new, New York edition, which had also been also an option.  It is relatively rare that the USA edition gets played because it can be quite unforgiving, this time though, everyone was quite experienced, and knew what they were letting themselves in for.  The game rules are much the same as for every other version of Ticket to Ride: on their turn players can take any two two cards from the face up market or blind from the draw deck; place some of their plastic trains to score points paying for them with appropriately coloured cards, or draw more ticket cards which score points at the end of the game if completed.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

There are no tunnels, ferries or stations in the original USA version, and Locomotive cards can be used as wild under any circumstances, but only one face up Locomotive card can be drawn per turn.  It was a very tight game with everyone obstructing each other a bit, though Red got the worst of it.  Green prioritised trying to get the ten point bonus for the longest continuous set of trains, while Black was concentrated on completing his tickets from Los Angeles to Miami and Winnipeg to Boston.  It was very clear it was going to be a close, high scoring game where completed tickets were going to be essential to the final scores.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine completed his first two tickets and started on his third route, from Montreal to Vancouver.  As the game came to a finish, everyone put the finishing touches to their plans: Green added a couple of trains to his longest route, and Pine just managed to complete his third route before the game ended.  As players totalled up their extras, it turned out that Green had just managed to take the longest route bonus by a single carriage, and red had been Red totally stymied—someone was always likely get stuffed in a five player game that was so very, very close.  In fact, in the final accounting there was just nine points between first and fourth place.  Black topped the podium with a hundred and four points, a single point ahead of Green with Pine a few points behind him.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

There was a bit of debate as to what to play next, but as Ivory had never played it before, the group eventually settled on Carcassonne, with the River expansion.  This is one of the most popular “gateway” game so it was quite remarkable that Ivory had managed to avoid it for so long.  The rules of the game are really simple, though they generate a surprising amount of depth, especially when played with two.  With five, there is less control, but it can still be a lot of fun.  On their turn, the active player draws a tile from one of the available stacks and adds it to the central map, making sure that any features on the edge of the map are preserved.  The active player may then place one of their Meeples on the tile they’ve just added to the tableau.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

The Meeple is placed on a feature – a Road, a City, a Monastery or Farm.  The key rule, however, is that a Meeple cannot be placed on a feature that already has a Meeple on it.  So if the tile is added in a way that means it extends an occupied pre-existing City for example, the player cannot place his Meeple on that City, though if it were unoccupied it would be fair game.  Once the player has finished placing their tile and Meeple, any features that were completed are scored and the associated Meeples returned to their owner.  When complete, Cities score one point per tile they occupy, double for every tile with a blue and white shield on it; Roads also score one point for every tile that contributes to them.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

Monasteries are rather different and when completely surrounded by eight tiles, score nine points.  Farms are a little different, only scoring at the end of the game, giving three points for every city it supplies.  These are usually a crucial source of points and the player who controls the biggest Farm usually wins.  Again, a Meeple cannot be added to a farm if there is already a Meeple occupying it, so this aspect of the game is all about joining Farms together and sharing or ideally, taking control of other people’s Farms.  Adding the River expansion helps to reduce the dominance of Farming by helping to prevent one single super-Farm forming, though Farms are still a very important part of the game and timing is crucial.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the game was played very quickly, especially given who was playing.  As a result, poor Ivory, on his first experience, had no idea what was going and really struggled to follow some of the more subtle parts of the game.  The game began as the Battle of the Cities, with Red and Ivory merging their Cities to increase their points haul,, and Black and Green sharing another City to do the same.  At the end, however, it all came down to eating and praying, i.e. Farms and Monasteries, in what was also a very close game.  Again, there was just one point between first and second and again the top two places were held by Black and Green, with Black once again pipping Green to the win.  This time it was Red who took a very close third, just three points behind.  Black’s comment as Ivory left, was that the game had been “Quite vicious,” and as the group waited for Lords of Vegas to finish and caught up on the votes in the House of Commons, that would be an appropriate description for the happenings in Parliament too.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  It doesn’t take many rules to make a really good game, just the right rules.

Boardgames in the News: How to Spot Fake and Counterfeit Games

Over the last few months, there have been increasing numbers of reports of fake or counterfeit games.  The quality of these forgeries is extremely variable and a huge range of games appear to be affected, from popular gateway games like Ticket to Ride: Europe, 7 Wonders or Dominion to more complex games like Terraforming Mars.  Card games like Codenames might be thought of as an obvious target due to how simple they are to reproduce, however, one of the most affected games is Azul, and reports suggest that it is the cardboard components that are poor quality—the plastic tiles are indistinguishable from the genuine articles.

Codenames
– Image from czechgames.com

So, how does one spot a counterfeit board game?  The answer is basically the same as for anything else.  Firstly, look at the quality.  This is probably the strongest indicator and if the quality of the fake is particularly high the buyer might not mind so much, or even notice.  Things to look out for include:

Splendor
– Image from imgur.com by BGG contributor ceephour

Some counterfeits are very high quality however.  This can be due to the so-called third shift work“, where a game is made in a factory that is nominally closed overnight, but the workers gain access and create bootleg copies with stolen material or off-cuts. Some of these are very good, but in some cases they also use parts that failed the quality control tests.  In such cases, the seller maybe more of an indication.  If buying on ebay or Amazon market place, beware if the seller has a strange name, claims to be located in the UK but isn’t, and has a very long delivery time.  In such cases, the scam is often to get payment a long time in advance, so that by the time the item is delivered (if at all), they are long gone.

Terraforming Mars
– Image from imgur.com

Thirdly, don’t imagine that Amazon is safe either:  there are three types of transaction, “Shipped from and sold by third-party seller”, “Sold by third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon” and “Shipped and sold by Amazon”.  Amazon only “sells” authentic items, however due to “commingling“, their stock can become contaminated by fakes.  This is because when an item is sold by a third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon, the third-party seller ships their item to Amazon who add it to their pile in their warehouse before they ship it on.  If the third-party is dodgy, the person buying from them may get lucky and get a copy from Amazon’s stock which means someone else will be unlucky…

Finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is—caveat emptor: Buyer Beware!

5th February 2019

Far from being over-run by new people flocking to games night in response to our advert in the Parish Newsletter, it was one of the quietest weeks for ages.  With Ivory still on “sabbatical”, Mulberry in the States, and Pine, Pink and Red all having something better to do, for the first time in ages, we were down to just five and a single game.  Burgundy was just finishing eating and Blue was waiting for the imminent arrival of her pizza, so the group decided to play something short that could be played while feeding.  After a brief discussion the group began a game of Walk the Plank!, and inevitably, Blue’s pizza arrived just as it started.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Walk the Plank! is an old favourite that has been somewhat neglected by the group of late.  It is a very silly programming game where players control pirate meeples who try to push each other off the ship and, when plans go wrong, occasionally jump overboard.  The idea is that each player begins with a hand of action cards and simultaneously everyone chooses three cards to play and the order they are going to play them in, placing them in a stack with the first card on top.   Once everyone has chosen their cards, the players take it in turns to take the top card off their pile and carry out the action using one of their three “pirate-eeples”.  Actions include shoving other players meeples closer to the end of the plank (or into the sea); running towards the ship; retracting or extending the plank, and even changing along the plank pushing another player closer to the sea.  As we were playing with the Limited Edition which comes with some extra cards, so for a bit of variety, we added the Dynamite and Ghost Pirate cards.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

The first of the extra cards, “Dynamite”, pushes everyone on a given piece of plank one space closer to the sea. The other, the “Ghost Pirate”, scares everyone on a a piece of plank so much that they run away, half towards the sea and half towards the ship.  The newly bespectacled Green was of the opinion that the extra cards were generally a little over-powered, so we house-ruled it so that they could only be played once each.  When we play this game we include a couple of other house rules too:  according to the rules as written, the last piece of the three piece plank should not be removed when shortening the plank and the game is supposed finish when there are two meeples left.  While we understand why these rules exist, we find that sharing victory means the game feels a little unresolved so we play through to the bitter end.  Similarly, we quite like the madness removing the last plank adds, and in such a short game, crazy chaos seems entirely appropriate.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

And chaos there was aplenty this time round too:  Burgundy was quickly out of the game when the third and final of his meeples was banished to the deep.  As the first person to be eliminated, Burgundy was given the slightly dubious honour of returning as a Ghost.  In this mini-expansion, the player returns as a white pirate-eeple doomed to haunt the ship and generally cause mayhem for everyone else by playing one shove card per round.  When the last of Black’s pirates joined Burgundy’s there was some discussion about a second ghost, but we decided it would just prolong the game.  It wasn’t long before he had company on the sidelines though, leaving just Blue and Purple.  With both of them perched precariously on the end of what was left of the plank and Blue set to go first the game was her to take.  However, she decided she couldn’t take advantage of the position and instead retracted the plank unceremoniously pitching both of them into the drink.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

With Blue finished with her pizza, and it clear that nobody else was coming, the group decided to move on to the “Feature Game” which was to be Through the Desert.  This is an old game, but one that is very simple to play, though difficult to play well.  It is an area control game with pastel camels that many feel is reminiscent of the classic game, Go.  The game begins with players placing one camel in each colour on the board.  Each of these has a rider (Leader) in their own colour, so these camels are the start of the player’s camel trains or Caravans.  After the initial placements, on their turn, players take any two camels from the general supply and add them to the board.  There are a few rules about placement – each one must be placed next to camels of the same colour to become part of one of that player’s caravans, and must not be placed next to a caravan of the same colour belonging to another player (as this would cause them to join).

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

The aim of the game is to gain points through via the four sources.  Firstly, there are several oases marked with green plastic palm trees; players who connect a caravan to an oasis get five points.  There are also watering hole tokens—players who place a camel on these spaces can claim these tokens which are worth up to three points.  Players who finish with the longest Caravans in each of the colours are also rewarded with points at the end of the game.  The most lucrative source of points, but also the most risky is enclosing areas.  It is in this way that it is most like Go.  Go is a very ancient game played on square grid with black and white stones.  People often try to compare it to Chess, though in truth, beyond the facts one play plays black, the other white and the game is played on a rectilinear grid and both are very old, the two games have almost nothing in common.

Chess
– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

Chess is a game with a very rigid structure where players control armies that are lined up to face each other.  Each piece has a clearly defined role and movement pattern and games develop in a very particular way.  The highly structured nature of the game means strategies are developed by analysing all the possible or likely moves which makes it highly programmable.  In contrast, Go is all about territory and pattern analysis, which has traditionally made it much more challenging for computer programmers and it is only recently that software engineers have been able to use machine learning algorithms that have the ability to beat Go champions.  In Go, players place their stones on the intersections of a rectilinear grid with the aim of marking out territory.  There is a lot of psychology in the early moves with players declaring their space; if a player is too aggressive at the start, they won’t be able to defend their position, if they are too timid with their opening they will have lost before they’ve begun.

Go
– Original image by Tomasz_Mikolajczyk on pixabay.com

Ultimately however, Go is a complex game of strategy where players are trying to capture their opponent’s stones and with i,t territory.  A single empty space inside a group is called an eye; for a group to remain alive it must contain at least two eyes.  Creating eye spaces in a player’s groups and trying to prevent their opponent from making eyes is one of the key aspects of Go.  It is in regard to building territory that Through the Desert is similar to Go, however, there are two significant differences.  Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the game is played on a hexagonal rather than a square grid.  The main difference is in the game-play though:  in Through the Desert pieces must be added to an existing caravan and surrounded pieces are not removed from the board.  Nevertheless, despite the differences it is unquestionably true that the Through the Desert is reminiscent of Go and was likely inspired by it.

Go
– Original image by Przemek Pietrak on flickr.com

With five players, everyone starts the game with Leaders mounted on four of the five different colours of camel.  Starting placement was quite difficult because nobody really knew constituted a good starting position, though some claimed to know what a bad one was.  Maybe there was an advantage in going last, or perhaps Black had a better idea than everyone else, but it quickly became apparent that that he had a large corner of the board all to himself.  This put Burgundy in a very difficult position as he was the only one who could do anything at all about it, but he had other plans.  In the end, Burgundy decided to do his own thing because the damage he could do to Black was minimal and it would be a significant expense to himself.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

Elsewhere, Burgundy was in a four-way tussle with Purple, Green and Black for access to an oasis and Green and Burgundy combined to prevent Blue from connecting two of the oases.  Meanwhile, Purple collected a pile of watering-hole tokens, and Burgundy was attempting to enclose an enormous space in the middle, while Green and and Blue were hoping to fly under the radar and get away with discretely annexing small areas at the edge of the board.  It wasn’t long before the number of pale blue camels was dwindling and Black was left trying to decide whether it was in his interest to bring the game to an end.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

When Blue reduced the handful to one lonely looking camel, Black could resist no longer leaving Burgundy’s audacious attempt to claim on the large central area incomplete and looking temerarious as a consequence.  Everyone had thought Black was so far in front that they were playing for second place, however, it turned out that the game was much closer than expected.  Green had scored slightly more for his oases and the length of his Caravans than Black and Black’s large corner hadn’t given him quite as much territory as it had first appeared.  It was very close, but Green took it by just two points.  As the group packed away, feelings were generally positive, but everyone was agreed that they’d play it differently next time, so we’ll have to give it another Go sometime soon.

Through the Desert
– Image by boardGOATS

With five players, the options were limited – we generally try to avoid two-player games and we were a bit short on good five-player ones.  In the end, it was either yet another game of Bohnanaza, or the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Isle of Skye, and Isle of Skye won easily.  Although this is a game we’ve played quite a bit and know reasonably well, we decided not to add the new Druids expansion as it is a while since we last played the base game and we felt we could do with a reminder.  The game is a sort of upgraded tile laying game with a lot in common with Carcassonne, but with 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.

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

This time, points were available for cows in the largest field; brochs; completed areas, and lighthouse-longboat combos.  The game proceeded along its usual course:  Burgundy had stacks of money but no tiles because everyone kept buying them while Blue and Black had plenty of tiles, but no money.  Black with a very linear kingdom was reminded by Purple that the goal for that shape wasn’t in use this time.  It didn’t seem to matte as he stormed off into the lead with a large field full of cattle, but it wasn’t long before others gave chase.  The winner in this game often comes from the back, because there is a “catch-up mechanism” where players get money in the later rounds, with those at the back getting more.  So, when Green and Blue eventually caught up with Black, the positions were important and Green looked ideally placed one point behind Black who was one point behind Blue.

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

Although the points awarded at the end of the rounds are valuable, it is usually the end game scoring through the scrolls that is critical.  These provide personal targets for each player, and score twice where terrain is “completed” (i.e. completely enclosed).  So towards the end of the game everyone scrabbled to maximise their points.  Green took a tile Blue wanted to keep, so Blue took one that Burgundy had priced very highly giving him even more money, but not the one tile that was really crucial to his plans.  Black added a couple more farms, while Green went for ships Purple went for light-houses and Blue tried to get both.  Burgundy and Blue were also working on the communal, end of round scoring for the brochs (prehistoric circular stone towers found in the highlands and islands of Scotland).  In the case of scoring for brochs though, one would give one point, two would give three and three six points.

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

With two players fighting for them brochs were scarce, but by the final round both Blue and Burgundy had managed to get their quota of six.  They were less than impressed when Black pointed out that the brochs only scored if they were in the same mountain region.  Although Black had read the scoring in full, somehow it had failed to make it to the end of the table as both Blue and Burgundy had missed it.  Green pointed out that anyone affected should be called out for cheating, but Burgundy was in such dire need of points nobody was going to contest him claiming them.  The scoring at the front was a bit closer though.  As the points were calculated though it was clear that Green needn’t have worried.  Although he was only one point behind Black, Blue’s fleet of ships meant she was twelve points clear, and it was obvious that even allowing for the extra points, she would still have won.

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

Learning Outcome:  If the rules are that important to your game-plan, clarify them first.

Boardgames in the News: What are “House Rules” and are they a Good Thing?

Occasionally, our game reports refer to “House Rules”.  These are slight alterations to the game rules which our group introduce when we play.  For example, the GOATS are quite slow players and, although we love Las Vegas, they find that it drags a little if the full four rounds are played, so we have a House Rule which means we stop after three.  Similarly, for us Saboteur sometimes drags and we find the scoring element a bit pointless.  For this reason, we usually skip the scoring and play each round as a short, independent game, which means we can play for as long as we want and just stop when we’ve had enough without worrying about overall winners.  The group also recently discussed allowing two players to make a pact with the Devil in Auf Teufel komm raus when playing with six, to help those players bringing up the rear catch-up, and perhaps make the decisions a little more interesting for the other players too.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

House Rules are frequently quite controversial though, and the reason is largely philosophical:  the game designer’s vision is based on “The Rules as Written”.  Tampering with the rules can be seen as showing anything from a lack of respect for the designer, to ignorance.  This is because the designer, publisher and development team will have the best understanding of the game through extensive play-testing which will be reflected in the rules. There is a point here, famously, many people play Monopoly “wrong” for example, which changes the character of the game significantly making it overly long and often extremely tedious (especially for players at the back).

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

When asked, most games designers will encourage experimentation though. This is for two main reasons.  Firstly, game designers enjoy experimenting themselves; to them there is no “one true rule set”, only the “current rule set”.  This is true for the rest of us too, as some games change when new editions are published—for example Carcassonne where the first, second and third editions all have different scoring, and Orléans where the rules for the Bathhouse  changed between the first and second edition.

Orléans
– Image by boardGOATS

Secondly, most designers understand that different groups have different characteristics and dynamics, and enjoy different aspects of playing games.  Designers also want people to get the maximum enjoyment out of their game and sometimes that means tweaking the rules slightly, so ultimately, they want people to play the way that makes them happiest.  For the avoidance of arguments, it is clearly important to make any “House Rules” very clear to everyone playing, as there is an expectation that games will be played with “The Rules as Written” except by prior arrangement.  However, if playing a game in a particular way is enjoyable, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using “House Rules” as long as everyone knows they are doing it.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Boardgames in the News: Who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?

A couple of months ago, Reuters reported that according to un-named sources, investment bankers had been hired to run the sale of Asmodee.  The claim was that the sale “could value the company at over €1.5 billion”, but there was no credible information as to who the potential buyers were.  This mystery has now been solved with the announcement that PAI Partners have entered into exclusive discussions to acquire Asmodee, a company with an enterprise value of €1.2 billion.  So, who are PAI Partners and what do they want with Asmodee?  Well, PAI is a European private equity company, that grew out of the merger between the French banks, BNP and Paribas in 1993, with a management buyout completed in 2001.  They have invested in a wide range of companies covering everything from yoghurt (Yoplait) to tyres (Kwik Fit) to cargo handling (Swissport).  Obviously PAI are interested in making money from Asmodee, but at this time there is no evidence to suggest that would by by asset stripping.  Price increases would be almost inevitable however, as the Studios would be under pressure to provide a good return on the investment.

PAI Partners
– Image from paipartners.com

Boardgames in the News: Concentric Eccentric Carcassonne

People playing Carcassonne in and around the walled city of Carcassonne, are a common sight and the locals are very tolerant.  However, the residents have been less impressed by the new art installation adorning the medieval fortress.  Selected by the Centre des Monuments Nationaux to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Carcassonne’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the installation is also part of the IN SITU Heritage and Contemporary Art, a summer event in the Occitanie / Pyrenees-Mediterranean region focusing on the relationship between modern art and architectural heritage.

Concentric Eccentric Carcassonne
– Image from france.fr

The work was designed by Felice Varini and comprises thin, painted aluminium sheets laid on the walls and towers of the west side of the medieval city, to form a succession of yellow “concentric eccentric circles” drawing visitors into the city.  The installation was officially inaugurated on 4th May and will be visible until the end of September.

29th May 2018

Two of our more sporadic members arrived early and were keen to get as many games played as possible, so the first game was squeezed in between ordering food and its arrival.  As something quick was required and Turquoise hadn’t played it before, NMBR 9 was the perfect choice.  A quick rules explanation was necessary, but there isn’t much to explain so it didn’t take long:  one player turns over the card deck, one at a time and everyone takes the indicated card and adds it to their tableau, ensuring that the edge touches one of the other tiles.  Once a few tiles have been placed to form a base layer, then tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile; the higher the tiles are placed the more they score.  It was a  tight game, well, tight between three players, but Pink romped away with it, twenty points clear, thanks to building one more level than everyone else.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Food was a little delayed, so there was time for another short game, this time an old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.   This is a game that gives players the illusion of control while everything is going well, and then shatters that illusion when it all goes wrong.  It is one of those games that is more difficult to explain than to play, but essentially players simultaneously choose a card from their hand, then simultaneously, everyone reveals their card.  Beginning with the lowest, each card is added in turn to the end of one of the four rows of cards on the table.  If a card is the sixth to be placed in a row, the first five are “won” and the card becomes a new starting card.  The player with the fewest “nimmts” is the winner, though almost as much kudos goes to the person for whom the game goes most wrong  and ends up with the most “nimmts”.  As usual, we played two rounds, and Magenta won the first with a duck, while Purple top-scored with twenty-six.  Purple picked up more “nimmts” than anyone else in the second round too and bravely took the wooden spoon, but the winner is the lowest over two rounds, and when Magenta picked up thirteen in the second round, she left the door open for Turquoise who finished with a very creditable total of six.

– Image by boardGOATS

While Pink, Blue, Magenta and Turquoise munched their pizzas, and Burgundy was attacked his ham, egg and chips, there was just time for those not eating to play a quick game of Love Letter. This game is very, very simple and can be as long or as short as necessary, in fact we hardly ever actually play it to the bitter end (three wins for one person).  Players start with a one card in hand and, on their turn draw a second, then choose which to play.  Each card has a special action and the aim of the game is to be the last player remaining or, in the case of more than one player left standing, to finish with the highest value card.  The first round went to Ivory came out on top, but in the second, Green made a lucky guess and knocked out Ivory in the first turn.  Then Green lost on a comparison, leaving Black and Purple to battle it out to the last card, with Purple the victor.  The third (and as it turned out, final) round ended up in a very unusual situation of being a tie between Green and Purple who both had the same high card.  While checking the rules, Blue shouted across that the winner was the one who had the highest total in front of them, which gave victory to Green.  With one-a-piece (except for Black) it was declared a three-way tie, though Purple was able to claim a moral victory with one win and a lost tie-break.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was still wading through his ham, egg and chips, but everyone else was finished, so it was time to negotiate who was going to play the “Feature Game”.  This was to be Taluva, a game we’ve played before, but this time it was to include the Extension.  The base game is a fairly simple tile laying game with a surprising amount of depth.  The idea is that on their turn, players place their tile, then place a building then replenish their hand.  This procedure is to that of Carcassonne, but that is where the comparison ends.  The tiles are a strange dodecagon made of three hexagonal regions or fields, one of which is always a volcano.  When placing tiles, they can be adjacent or on top of other tiles so long as the volcano sits on top of another volcano (the tile must also cover more than one tile and there cannot be an overhang).  Buildings can be placed anywhere, provided that they obeys certain rules. Unfortunately, although the game is beautiful, the theme is a bit sparse making these rules appear very arbitrary which has the consequence that they are quite difficult to remember.

Taluva
– Image by boardGOATS

A hut can be built on any unoccupied level one terrain that isn’t a volcano. On the other hand, an existing settlement can be expanded by placing huts on all adjacent terrains of one type, with more huts placed on the higher levels (two on the level two etc.). There are also three temples and two towers to place which can only be added to existing settlements: temples must be added to settlements covering at least three fields, while towers must be placed on a level three field adjacent to a settlement of any size.  The game ends when there are no tiles left and the winner is the player to have placed the most temples at the end of the game. In case of a tie, the number of towers built counts and then the number of huts. However, if a player succeeds in building all buildings from two out of the three different types before the game end, then he immediately wins the game. On the other hand, any player who squanders his building pieces and is unable to build any more is immediately eliminated.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

Adding the Extension adds four optional modules:  pieces for a fifth player; two ships per player; a small number of double-hex tiles (rather than triple-hex tiles), and a board that provides a boundary for the building area.  We added all four modules, though we used the largest boundary area so it had only a small impact on the game.  The double-hex tiles are laid out face up and each player can only use one during the game, but as all tiles must be used unless a player checks-out early, the decision when to take play one can be quite important as nobody wants to be left with a tile they can’t use effectively.  Perhaps the most interesting module, though, is the ships.  These are played on “lagoons”, but critically, there is  a limit of one ship per lagoon, and the ships do not connect other areas.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

From the very start, everyone seemed to get carried away with the idea of trying to build lagoons and place their ships.  Everyone that is except Burgundy, who got his first settlement illegally removed by Blue and spent most of the rest of the game trying to catch up.  Meanwhile, Pink stalled as his computer overheated, trying to come up with a strategy to compete with Ivory’s ever-growing empire.  It quickly became apparent that it would require everyone else cooperating to bring it down.  Burgundy and Blue tried to hatch a plan, but Black couldn’t see a way to prevent Ivory placing his last ship, and wasn’t prepared to spend as long thinking about things as Pink.  And with that, Ivory brought the game to an end; definitely far more “thinky” than such a simple little game really had a right to be.

Taluva with Extension
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, those who did not want to play long or heavy games chose a light game of Best Tree House, an easy game to learn (or so we thought).  This is a fairly simple little card drafting game, but with the rules in German, it was down to Purple to try and remember how to play it and Magenta to attempt some translation.  Players start with a hand of six room cards, and simultaneously choose one to add to their tree, passing the rest of their hand on to their neighbour.  There are some rules about building: firstly, treehouses must be built in such a way that each new level has one more card than the last (giving the tree its shape).  Each card represents a type of room and these are colour-coded to one of six colours. When a player is adding a card of a colour they don’t have in their treehouse yet, it can go anywhere, but if a player is placing a colour that already exists in their treehouse, it must connect to at least one card of matching colour. In this way players have to consider their card placements over the course of the game and try to avoid locking themselves out of options as play develops.  The clever part is the Balance Marker which limits the placement options.  It has three positions and when it is not central, the player cannot build on that side of their treehouse, indeed, they have to build to the other side of center in order to move their Balance Marker back to open up their placement options again.

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

At the end of each round, players score their treehouse based on the trophies on display.  We stumbled through the first game not entirely sure who should chose the scoring alteration cards after each round.  It wasn’t till the end of the game, when Black had found a copy of the English rules online for us that we realised we had made a few mistakes in the way we played. Some of us had also re-used a colour that should not have been used as it had already been blocked by other rooms.  Although the game was a tie between Purple and Turquoise on thirty-four each, we felt we had made such a mess of it that we needed to try again, but properly this time—it was only a short game after all.  The second time round, the game made more sense and everyone made better choices. The choosing of the score alteration cards was certainly trickier this time, but that felt more like a game challenge.  This time the victory went to Magenta, but everyone felt better after the second try and the game seemed a lot fairer too.

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

Although time was getting on, it still wasn’t that late, and the “Feature Game” looked like it might be drawing to a close soon, therefore we picked another short one, Dodekka.  This is a simple little push-your-luck card game, with five different suits, Fire, Earth, Air, Water or Ether each with cards numbered 0-4. The game starts with three random cards placed in a line from the draw deck.  On a player’s turn they can either take a card from the deck and add it to the end of the row of cards, or take the card nearest the deck.  If the total of the face values of the cards in the row exceeds twelve, then the player has to take the whole row.  At the end of the game, players choose a scoring suit and add up the face value for that colour, then they subtract the penalty points – one for every card not in their scoring suit.  Purple and Green are old hands at this one, but Turquoise and Magenta had not played it before. Green made a good show of demonstrating how not to play this game as he managed to collect a vast array of cards of all colours.  His positive score was not bad, but he had a shockingly high negative score giving an overall minus one.

Dodekka
– Image by boardGOATS

It was much closer between the other three.  Turquoise got to grips with the idea quite quickly and managed to amass a high positive score of 16, but ended up with a few too many other colours.  In a game that is often won with a score of two or three, her score of nine was excellent and remarkably tied with Purple who scored.  Eclipsing them both, however, was Magenta, who scored positive thirteen like Purple, but amazingly had avoided the traps and ended up with only two other cards to give an unheard-of total score of eleven.  By this time, Taluva had finished, and that group had moved onto another quick game that we’ve not played for a while, The Game.  This was played with the blue cards from The Game: Extreme, but we just ignored the additional extra icons.  In this game, players must try to cooperatively 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: Extreme
– 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.  This time, a lot of players started with mid-range cards, but once those had been cleared, things progressed quite satisfactorily.  Inevitably, when Burgundy was forced to trash a pile, things began to go wrong, but once he’d played all his cards, with a bit of careful organisation all of a sudden it looked possible, and indeed, as Ivory played his last cards, a four and a three, we beat The Game for the first time in a very long while.

The Game: Extreme
– Image by boardGOATS

While all this excitement was going on, Green had left for an early night and the last three decided to give NMBR 9 another go.  This time, all three players only managed two scoring layers, and, as a result, there was just one point between second and third.  It was Turquoise, however, who had really got a handle on the game this time though, and finished more than ten points ahead of the others with a creditable score of sixty-four.  There was still time left for something shortish, and with six people there wasn’t an awful lot to choose from, so in the end, we went for an old favourite, Bohnanza, also known as “The Bean Game”.  Because most people have played this a lot, in general, it was only a few minor points that really needed clarifying though reminders are always helpful:  hands must NOT be rearranged; active players MUST play the first card from hand and may play the second; the two cards turned over from the deck must be planted before any other trading can be done; fields with only one bean in them cannot be harvested unless all fields only have one bean in them; draw FOUR cards at the end of players turns, and third bean fields cost only TWO coins…

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was very close.  Purple was clearly doing well with lots of lucrative Soy beans, while Black-eye beans were unusually popular.  Black was stuck with a precession of coffee and wax beans, while Blue kept digging up stuff just before she acquired more of them. Burgundy kept complaining that he had a very small pile, but by the end it looked just as healthy as anyone else’s.  Blue bought herself a third bean field at her first opportunity, and, controversially, Ivory followed about two thirds of the way through the second round.  This drew lots of surprised gasps and sucking of teeth, as the received wisdom is that with large numbers of players, the extra field is rarely worth it.  It was impossible to tell whether Ivory would have done better without it, but it was a game of small margins.  In the end, it was a tie, with Blue and Purple both finishing with thirteen points, largely thanks to a very dodgy trade on the final turn.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

Learning Outcome:  Great games can come from a simple rule set.