Tag Archives: Carcassonne

Spiel des Jahres Winners – 2022

The 2022 Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) winner has just been been announced as Cascadia.   Cascadia is a token-drafting and tile laying game featuring the habitats and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest.  Players take turns expanding their terrain area and populating it with wildlife by taking a terrain and wildlife pair of tiles and adding them to their territory.  Players are trying to create large areas of matching terrain to create wildlife corridors, while also placing wildlife tokens to achieve the goal associated with that animal type (e.g. separating hawks from other hawks, surrounding foxes with different animals and keeping bears in pairs).

– Image by BGG contributor singlemeeple

In recent years, there has been a marked change in the sort of games winning the award with a noticeable shift to lighter games with a general drift away from “traditional board games” like past winners, El Grande, Tikal, The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride: Europe.  This was epitomised by last year’s winner MicroMacro: Crime City, which is arguably more of an activity than a game.  Although this may make games more relevant to a wider cross-section of the public, it also means the Spiel des Jahres awards are increasingly less applicable to more traditional gamers.  This year’s winner, Cascadia is something of a throwback in this regard, being a more conventional modern board game and not as light as some of the recent winners.

– Image by Ludonaute

That said, the introduction of the Kennerspiel des Jahres or “connoisseur” award eleven years ago, was aimed at filling the gap left by the drift of the Spiel des Jahres Award, with a move towards lighter games.  As such, it is usually a better fit for the experienced gamer, though not necessarily those who enjoy classic Euro board games.  This year, all three nominees were more traditional Euro-type games, guaranteeing that the winner would be too.  The Kennerspiel des Jahres winner is announced at the same time as the winner of the “Red Poppel”, and this year it was another nature game, Living Forest, a game where players are a nature spirit trying to save the forest and its sacred tree from the flames of Onibi.

Cascadia
– Image adapted by boardGOATS from the
live stream video on spiel-des-jahres.de

The Kinderspiel des Jahres award winner was announced last month and went to Zauberberg (aka Magic Mountain), a game where players move sorcerers’ apprentices down a mountain, and ride the influence of the will-o’-the-wisp.  As usual, congratulations to all the winners and nominees.

24th March 2022

The evening began with Pine arriving first and wondering if he’d got the wrong night as it was gone 7pm before anyone else arrived.  While Blue ate her supper, Pine shared some “worm porn” (a video of a penis fencing flatworm) and Green shared his exploits on Board Game Arena.  Apparently he’d been playing Imhotep and had been doing rather well, rising to thirty-fifth.  After a lot of discussion about which game he was talking about, it turned out that by pure chance, a copy of Imhotep had made it to The Jockey.  In spite of Green’s enthusiastic request for someone to beat him, nobody looked keen to take him up on the offer.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

While the others discussed the options, Purple and Black joined Blue and Pine setting up the “Feature Game“.  This was the Druids expansion for an old favourite, the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Isle of Skye.  The base game is a tile laying game similar in nature to the popular gateway game, Carcassonne, but with an auction of tiles and objectives that give points. The auctions are extremely clever:  each player draws three tiles from a bag and privately decide how much two are worth, selecting one to be discarded.  Players use their own money to indicate the value and therefore the cost of the tiles.

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

After the values are revealed, each player then takes it in turns to buy one tile.  The clever part is that the money used to indicate the cost of each tile is reserved to pay for it until someone else buys it.  Any tiles that have not been bought after everyone has chosen and paid for one, must be paid for by their owner.  The reason this is clever is because of the effect it has on the amount of money that players have to spend.  For example, the first player in the round must make sure they have sufficient uncommitted funds if they want to be able to buy a tile.

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

On the other hand, the player at the end of the round has a different calculation to make:  if their tiles are priced to give good value they should sell at least one which will provide them with liquidity to buy other tiles.  However, being last in the round, their choice will be reduced, and if their tiles don’t sell, the fact the other tiles might be on the expensive side, could leave them unable to make a purchase.  It is not compulsory to buy a tile, but players that don’t have enough tiles are unlikely to score as well.  Thus valuing tiles is key—overvaluing their tiles is costly as nobody will buy them leaving their owner with a big bill and less money in the next round, while undervaluing them gives good tiles to an opponent and will leave their owner with less money and fewer tiles.

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

Once the tile auction is complete, players add the tiles to their own personal fiefdom.  At the end of the round, one or more of the objectives are scored.  Similar to Cartographers, there are four scoring objectives.  In the early rounds only one scores, with three scored in later rounds, but each one is scored the same number of times during the game.  Although this is an important source of points, it is not the only one as some tiles feature scrolls that score at the end of the game.  Players receive income at the start of each round, with players getting additional funds for each player that is in front of them, with the amount increasing as the game progresses.  As well as being a catch-up mechanism, this also importantly provides an additional channel for money to enter the game.

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

In addition to the auctions and the objectives, there are other ways Isle of Skye differs from Carcassonne.  There are no meeples, and players have their own maps instead of sharing one central one.  Even the tile placement rules are slightly different as terrain must match, but not roads (though it is generally useful if they do as it can increase players’ income).  Thus, although there is a superficial similarity with Carcassonne, Isle of Skye is distinctly more complex.  Unlike the first, Journeyman expansion (which we have not yet played), the second, Druids expansion doesn’t really increase the complexity.  It adds more strategy options though, with more scoring opportunities and additional ways to spend money (should you have any spare).

Isle of Skye: Druids
– Image by boardGOATS

The Druids expansion adds a second part to the auction phase where players can choose to buy one from the five displayed on the dolmen board.  These are more powerful as they generally include scoring opportunities or special powers, but are correspondingly more expensive.  The end of round scoring tiles gave A) two points for each tile in players’ largest completed lake; B) a point for each cow or sheep on on or adjacent to a tile with a farm; C) two points for each set of four tiles arranged in a square, and D) one point for each row and column containing a Broch.

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

Pine took the first player token and Purple’s first draw gave her one of the promo tiles from the Themenplättchen mini expansion which was immediately thrown back for causing too much brain pain to work out what it did.  Pine and Blue took an early lead at the end of the first round scoring for their lakes, but it was only a handful of points and there was a long way to go.  Purple started building her long thin, rectangular kingdom prioritising income.  It wasn’t until the third round that the importance of this shape became apparent to everyone else however:  since tiles could be used to score multiple times for (C), this meant Purple picked up lots of points.

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

There was a bit of a debate about the Tunnelplättchen tiles from the two mini expansions.  Black checked on Board Game Geek and confirmed that tunnels going into the same mountain range connected together.  This helped Pine considerably, as otherwise he was in a bit of a mess.  Blue bought an exciting looking scroll tile that gave lots of points for enclosed pasture, but when Blue noticed that Black had it too, he commented that it was actually really difficult to enclose pasture, Blue took it as a challenge. It was shortly after this, about half way through the game that the group realised that they’d forgotten about the catch-up mechanism.

Isle of Skye: Druids
– Image by boardGOATS

From the third round, during the income phase at the start of the round, players get gold for every player that is ahead of them on the score track.  The amount of gold they get increases as the game progresses, so in the final round players get four gold for every player ahead of them—for the player at the back in the four player game, this comes to twelve gold, and for a player at the back until the start of the last round this comes to a total of thirty gold more than a player at the front.  Unfortunately, the group remembered this a couple of rounds too late, so everyone who wasn’t in the lead (i.e. everyone but Blue) received a nice little windfall that they could use to increase the price of their tiles or spend on the Dolman.

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

Black was making good use of the Dolman board and had some really juicy scoring scrolls in his tidy little kingdom and looked the one to beat, especially as he had plenty of cash too (helped by his windfall).  Pine, on the other hand was struggling to find anything useful and was resorting to using the alternative Dolman option: draw two tiles from the bag and keep one.  Unfortunately despite trying attempts, he wasn’t getting anything he wanted.  It was at the end of round five that things suddenly changed and Purple, hitherto drifting about in third and and fourth leapt forward, landing just one point behind Blue.

Isle of Skye: Druids
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue, having led throughout, knew she didn’t really have enough end-game points to challenge and was expecting Black to catch and overtake.  In the event, it was extremely tight at the front with Purple finishing with one hundred and two points, six more than Blue who just managed to hold on to second, two points ahead of Black.  All in all though, everyone liked what the Dolman board added to the game, as it gave people larger, more exciting kingdoms with something to spend money on (when they had it).

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

Meanwhile, the other group started by discussing what to play.  Imhotep was on the table, but Ivory spotted Dice Hospital in a bag and Green was happy to play that instead; as Lilac was familiar with it too she was happy with the switch, as was Teal, though he had not played it.   The explanation of the rules and game play took a little longer than the game itself would indicate.  The idea is that each play is the owner of a hospital and starts with an administrator which gives them a special power, three nurses, and three patients—dice drawn at random from a bag.  The colour of the dice represents their illness and the number on the its severity six indicates they are healthy but if the number falls below one, the patient dies.

Dice Hospital
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of each round, players take an ambulance with new patients – if there aren’t enough beds available, another patient must make space by moving to the morgue (where each body-bag is a negative point at the end of the game).  Players can then augment their own hospital by adding specialist medics and wards and finally, their medics can visit each patient and improve their health.  Different specialisms can only “heal” certain colours or numbers. Any patients not treated are “neglected” and their health deteriorates with any that fall below one moving to the morgue. In contrast, anyone who exceeded six is discharged at the end of the round, but the more that are discharged at the same time, the more points the player scores.

Dice Hospital
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game progresses, players continue to improve their hospital getting more specialists and acquiring blood bags to help treat their patients.  The game ends after eight rounds and the player with the most points is the winner.  When the group finally got underway it became clearer how to play and what actions were available.  The key to the game is knowing which specialists to get and which ambulance of patients to take – admitting healthier patients gives less choice of ward/doctor (and potentially get something which is of little use) , while curing the sickest patients is more difficult, but gives first dibs specialisms.

Dice Hospital
– Image by boardGOATS

The administrators dealt out at the start of the game can provide players with a direction for their strategy.  Teal and Green had ones that meant that they could leave one patient of a specific colour untreated per round without them declining. Teal was able to use his a few times, but Green found that he just could never seem to get enough red dice to make use of it.  Lilac was trying to get at least two red patients healed each turn as her administrator privilege gave her an extra point if she did; she managed it a few times (which was where the red dice kept going).  Ivory’s administrator would give him an extra point if he healed at least one patient of each colour which he managed to good effect several times.

Dice Hospital
– Image by boardGOATS

After a couple of rounds Green commented that he had found it was best to keep a balance of Ward’s and medics otherwise there either wasn’t enough staff to treat the number of patients, or there weren’t enough usable wards to send the your doctors to. Teal and Lilac were quite good at regularly healing patients, but at one at a time they were scoring only one point per round.  Each subsequent patient healed in a round scored an extra two points each With more than six worth three points extra.  Thus holding on to heal more per round, meant more points.  There was also a five point bonus for completely clearing the hospital, but nobody got close to that, except Ivory in the final round.

Dice Hospital
– Image by boardGOATS

Throughout the game, Teal and Lilac kept healing a steady trickle of patients. Green however was having all sorts of trouble:  he found himself with ward’s he couldn’t use, his hospital filing up rapidly, and started losing patients (minus two points)—his was definitely a Failing Trust!  Ivory, however, was romping away, keeping his hospital from getting over crowded and kept amassing points.  Although his start had been slow start and he didn’t score anything until the third round, he made up for it after that.  In the end Ivory proved to have run the best hospital trust, while Teal’s slow steady trickle worked out quite well as his hospital was the second best with Lilac was a close third.

Dice Hospital
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory left for home, but Isle of Skye had not yet finished and, although there wasn’t time for Imhotep, there was still time for something quick.  So Teal introduced Green and Lilac to a game they’d not played before, called Diamonds.  This is a trick-taking game played with normal suited cards from one to fifteen where players are trying to win diamonds—not the suit, but the gemstones.  When players cannot follow suit they get to do a “Suit Action” based on what suit they actually play.  For example, playing a Diamond card gives one diamond gem from the supply placed into the player’s safe while playing a Heart gives one diamond from the supply to the pile in front of their safe.

Diamonds
– Image by boardGOATS

Similarly, playing a Spade allows the player to move one diamond from outside their safe into it, and on playing a Club the player steals one diamond from outside someone else’s safe and places it in front of their own. Additionally, at the end of the round of ten tricks, the player that won the most tricks in each suit gets to do that Suit Action one more time (in the case of a tie no-one does it).  With the game taking six rounds there is plenty of chances to gain diamonds.  It did not take long for the group to understand the game, although the for first few tricks the group were a little uncertain.

Diamonds
– Image by boardGOATS

Several times players found that although they had won, they couldn’t do anything as either the person they were supposed to steal from did not have any diamonds or, when they could move one diamond into their safe (from in front of it), they didn’t have any.  Plus, several times they found they had to steal from themselves so nothing happened.  The group also found that when they started to win tricks, they got control and were able to lead in suits the others didn’t have and so kept winning.  It proved to be a clever little game, but the group felt it probably plays much better with more people, so we might try it with a larger part of the group in future.  At the end of the game, however, Teal was the master diamond merchant with Green the apprentice.

Diamonds
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  A career in diamond trading is not for everyone.

Boardgames in the News: Asmodee Changes Hands Again and Lots of Money is Made

Asmodee started life as a small French company best known for clever little Snap-variant card game, Dobble.  However, a series of mergers, buyouts and distribution agreements has left the company with a stake in some of the best known modern games including Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Pandemic and Carcassone.  As a result, the company is arguably the most dominant force in the world of modern board games.

Dobble
– Image adapted by boardGOATS

Paris-based private equity house Eurazeo had owned Asmodee for four years, when three and a half years ago, they sold it to another private equity firm, PAI Partners.  At the time, Asmodee, had an enterprise value of €1.2 billion, making €565 million for Eurazeo and its investors and giving a return of about 35%.  Over the last year, Asmodee acquired Plan B Games, the US retailer Minature Market and, following its success during the global pandemic, the games online platform Board Game Arena.  This activity was building towards another potential sale and last autumn, with PAI Partners making preparations to sell Asmodee for a reported €2 billion.

PAI Partners
– Image from paipartners.com

Then, just before Christmas a deal was announced with Sweden’s Embracer Group AB for €2.75 billion.  Embracer Group AB were formerly Nordic Games Licensing AB and THQ Nordic AB and are a Swedish video game company based in Karlstad.  Under this deal, Asmodee would continue to operate much as before, as an operating group within the Embracer Group.  No reorganization is expected and Asmodee’s CEO Stéphane Carville together with his management team would continue in their current roles.

Embracer Group AB
– Image from embracer.com

Boardgames in the News: Why Play is Important

The importance of “play” is well known to boardgamers, but it has now become the subject of a recent report from the BBC.  The article discusses how play is usually associated with children and is important in their development.  Prof. Sam Wass, a child psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of East London, explains that there are more links between different neurons in a young child’s brain than there are in an adult one, and as a result their brains are “messier”.

Tier auf Tier
– Image from reviewgeek.com

Prof. Wass explains that play helps tidy children tidy up their brains by making connections between which haven’t necessarily been made before.  Through the process of repetition, this helps to strengthen the connections between these different brain areas.  Further, he argues that as well as the neurological benefits of play, it helps young children to learn about the world around them by experimenting. While the importance of play is understood for children, the article asks whether there is a specific age at which we feel it is odd for people to spend their free time playing a game.

Backgammon
– Image from BGG contributor unicoherent

Play is known to help teenagers define themselves as people and to discover a sense of identity, but also has benefits for older people.  The report gives the example of people from different religious and political backgrounds playing Backgammon together in Jerusalem and suggests that a more playful workplace can lead to “reduced absenteeism, greater commitment, more creativity, better team building and general happiness.”

Bingo
– Image by BGG contributor RobertaTaylor

Further, Dr. Drew Altschul, a psychologist (University of Edinburgh), suggests playing games can help preserve brain function with people who play games later in life showing a less steep decline overall in their thinking skills, and effect not seen for those who spend their spare time reading and writing or playing music.  Dr. Carrie Ryan (UCL), suggests it’s not only intellectual play that is of benefit to older people, even playing simple games like Bingo can help those with severe physical and cognitive deterioration like dementia who are enlivened by the experience.

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

In conclusion, the article confirms what most board gamers already know—games really are good for you, and we should all spend more time playing them.

13th January 2022

Blue and Pink were the first to arrive, soon joined by Black and Purple.  Others quickly rolled up and before long, everyone was discussing what they’d been doing over the holiday.  Teal produced a new “Roll and Write” game that everyone could play together, called Trek 12: Himalaya, a game where players are climbing a mountain.  He gave a quick summary and demonstrated how he’d raided the stationary cupboard so everyone quickly agreed to give it a go.

Trek 12: Himalaya
– Image by boardGOATS

The game has some prima facie similarities to On Tour which we played remotely a couple of times, in that two dice are rolled and their results combined.  In On Tour, the results are simply combined to make a two digit number, so a two and a three can make a twenty-three or a thirty-two.  In Trex 12, the numbers are combined by addition, subtraction or multiplication and additionally players can pick either the larger or the smaller individually, with each option available a total of four times during the game.

Trek 12: Himalaya
– Image by boardGOATS

Players are trying to make chains of consecutive numbers and groups of the same number—runs and melds, which represent ropes and camps respectively.  At the end of the game, players score for the highest number in the rope (or camp), plus one additional point for every other connected point (which must be connected when they are played).  Additionally, players score bonus points for the longest rope they make, and the largest camp, and penalties for any isolated numbers that are not part of a rope or a camp.

Trek 12: Himalaya
– Image by boardGOATS

It took a couple of turns to get going, but thereafter it was quite quick.  The game has a sort of legacy element with alternative maps and envelopes that can be opened once certain challenges have been met, but we played the Dunai map and without any complications.  Teal pointed out that although the first number can go anywhere, thereafter numbers must be written next to other numbers so it was wise to keep options open.  Pink therefore started at one end, immediately demonstrating how to make the game more challenging.

Trek 12: Himalaya
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine and Blue seemed to be working to very similar strategies with a long rope and a large “Four” camp in the middle, though Pine made a better fist of it and finished in second place with sixty-eight.  Ivory was the overall winner though, with lots and lots of short bits of rope of high value and a final score of seventy-two, well clear of the total needed to beat the game.  Trex 12 had been both quick and enjoyable, so after that aperitif everyone was ready to move on to something a little more filling, and the group split into two, the first playing the “Feature Game“, Streets.

Streets
– Image by boardGOATS

Streets is a tile laying game by the same people as the very enjoyable Villagers.  It is, perhaps, a little lighter and, rather than developing the occupants of a village, players are building a city, transforming it street by street, from a small town into a centre of culture and commerce.  The turn structure is similar to more familiar games like Carcassonne: On their turn, the active player chooses a building tile, adds it to the town, places an ownership marker on it and then scores any completed features, in this case, Streets.

Streets
– Image by boardGOATS

Although there are similarities, there are a lot of differences: players have a hand of three tiles all of which represent buildings; as well as ownership tokens, the active player also places people on the building, then there are the tile placement and scoring rules.  The building tiles have a road at the bottom and sky at the top and can be placed such that a Street, a row of houses, is extended by adding the tile to it in the same orientation, or terminated so that the road is perpendicular forming a junction.  When both ends of a Street finish in a junction, the Street is closed and scored.

Streets
– Image by boardGOATS

Different buildings score in different ways, for example some tiles give points for people in the Street and others for the number of building symbols in the Street.  There are a few little niggly little rules.  For example, when scoring a Street players include the symbols on the street itself, but also any on a tile that terminates the Street and points towards it.  There are other ways of scoring buildings as well, for the number of adjacent tiles or copying another building of choice in the Street for example.  In addition to the money won for the building itself, players also score for the number of people on the tile scored.

Streets
– Image by boardGOATS

When a building is scored, the active player moves the people on to different building in another, open Street.  This encourages players to terminate Streets even though they might not score themselves, because they can move people onto their own buildings elsewhere which means they will score more later in the game.  There are a few other things that contribute to the decision making dilemmas.  For example, players only have five ownership tokens, and if they run out, they have to take them from another building without scoring it.

Streets
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends when all the tiles have been played and any remaining Streets are scored, but for half points (similar to Carcassonne).  The basic game is quite straight forward, but although most people got to grips with it, the combination of small text, symbols, a little confusion of terminology and general tiredness meant others struggled with planning effective moves.  Black took what was obviously an early march when he played his micro-brewery tile to “copy” another high-scoring tile in the same street, but Purple, Blue and Pine had their moments too.

Streets
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end, Black won with a cricket score of a hundred and twenty (well, a score that would have beaten England in the recent Ashes series anyhow).  Blue, Purple and Black quite enjoyed the game and could see the its potential for adding expansions too.  Definitely one to be played again, though Pine might need some persuading.  Meanwhile, on the next table, Ivory, Pink and Teal were getting to grips with a game of Key Flow (Lime having taken an early night after another very early morning).

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory and Pink have played Key Flow and its big brother, Keyflower, many times before (including relatively recently in October), but Teal was new to the game though he’d heard good things.  In both games, players are building villages and activating the buildings in their villages by playing meeples (or rather Keyples) to generate resources and score points.  The games have a lot in common including the artwork, the iconography and the fact both take place over four rounds or seasons, but the underlying game mechanism is different.  In Keyflower, players acquire tiles by auction where in Key flow players gain cards by drafting.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Key Flow is surprisingly straightforward to play, though doing well is a completely different matter.  Players who start with a hand of cards, choose one and pass the rest on, adding their chosen card to their village before they get their next, slightly smaller hand.  There are three types of card:  Village cards, Riverside cards and “Keyple” cards.  Village cards are buildings that can be activated by playing Keyples above them, while Riverside cards provide instant resources and skill tiles.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

The cards have to be “connected” together and location can be important. Buildings for example are more productive if they have been upgraded, but upgrading needs resources and the resources need to be moved to the building being upgraded. Similarly, in autumn there are some buildings which score points for resources they are holding. Therefore, it is helpful if the building producing the resources is near to the one being upgraded or used for scoring as moving resources can be expensive and sometimes difficult.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Simlar to the Keyples in Keyflower, the Keyple cards are used to activate buildings and produce resources.  Some can be played either in a neighbour’s village or the player’s own village.  Other cards can only be played in the village one side or cannot be played in one’s own village.  This is why three players is arguably the sweet-spot for Key Flow—with more players there is at least one village players cannot use, adding a level of randomness that it is difficult to deal with.  With three however, everything in play is accessible, though perhaps at a cost.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the game players get some winter cards which can act as objectives to guide players’ strategies; at the start of the final round players get to keep one of these with the rest going into the draft.  At the end of the game, players score for any autumn cards, any buildings with upgrades as appropriate, any winter cards and finally one point for any otherwise unused gold.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Pink went for a “Scholar Strategy”, but changed his mind at the last minute to go for the Ranch instead.  Teal went for a gold strategy with the Jeweller to double his score, and picking up both the Gold Mine and the Smelter, the latter of which he upgraded so he could exchange one skill tile for three gold.  Unfortunately, Pink found that useful too and therefore got in his way somewhat.  Ivory didn’t appear to have a strategy early on, but made sure he had plenty of resources he hoped would be useful later in the game.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

In the final round, Pink got his Scholar anyhow then lucked out and got the Trader too, while Teal’s flotilla of boats gave him a lot of options, but somehow he struggled to convert them into points.  Ivory who had been keeping all his options open with a scatter-gun approach, managed to finish with a smorgasbord of points from pigs, Keyples, travel, and of course resources.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

It was not a surprise Ivory won as he always does well in this game, but Pink was very pleased to have run him close finishing just five points behind.  With that, people started to drift off, a few people hung about for a while, just chatting, amongst other things, discussing what “Cotton Clouds and White Cashmere” smells like and whether the new soap in the Ladies really did smell of it…

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  “Roll and Write” games aren’t only the preserve of “Remote Gaming”.

16th December 2021

Ivory, always excitable when it comes to Christmas, was first to arrive, shortly followed by Blue and Pink, with armfuls of crackers, parcels, party poppers and Golden GOAT voting forms. It was our first visit to The Jockey since the retirement of the Charles and Anna, but Michelle and John made us very welcome on their first full day, and were very understanding of the noise mess we inevitably made.

"Un-Christmas Party" 2021
– Image by boardGOATS

We started with the crackers, frantically chasing dice, chocolates, and meeples all over the place, and then suffering the flock of appalling goaty jokes with which they were filled. As people munched the chocolates from their crackers they filled in their Golden GOAT voting forms, then Pine and Pink collated the results.  There were lots of nominations for GOAT Poo, but the runaway winner was Dingo’s Dreams.  This is probably quite a clever game that we would normally enjoy, but we played it online with lots of people, none of whom had any idea what they were trying to do.  As a result, the complete chaos made for a very un-fun experience all round.

Dingo's Dreams
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Discussion surrounding the Moment of the Year included reminiscences of the time Lime accidentally joined an online game of 6 Nimmt! with a bunch of Frenchmen, but that was last year and therefore not eligible this time round.  Pine and Pink fondly remembered the pasting they gave to Burgundy and Blue when they played Ticket to Ride: Heart of Africa, but the winner was the online game of Niagara when Pink won by stealing gems from everyone else—an event that still lingers in the the memory of those who were robbed and are even now dreaming of revenge.

Niagara
– Adapted by boardGOATS from image by
BGG Contributor El_Comandante

With all the online gaming, there was less competition than usual for the Golden GOAT award.  Indeed, the 2019 winner, Wingspan, was very nearly the first game to win the Golden GOAT award twice, but much to Green’s obvious delight, it was just pipped to victory by Praga Caput Regni – quite an achievement given that only four people in the group had even played it.  We spent our winnings from the quiz on appetizers and with some having a full three-course dinner, we weren’t finished till quite late.  There was just time for a game or two though…

Golden GOAT - 2021
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine was keen to play Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, but after the Heart of Africa experience nobody else was enthusiastic to join him.  Ivory was keen to play  the “Feature Game” which was Santa’s Workshop, so Pink, Blue and Burgundy joined him.  This is a medium-light weight worker placement game, similar to Stone Age, Lords of Waterdeep or Viticulture, but with a festive theme.  Players operate teams of elves making presents for Santa to deliver on Christmas Eve.

Santa's Workshop
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, players can send elves to collect wish-list items, mine for coal, visit the metal, wood, fabric, plastic and assembly workshops, or train their elves so they work more efficiently.  Players earn Cookies for every gift they make, and every three days, Santa carries out an inspection and the teams that have made the most gifts get more Cookies.  The elves can also visit the Reindeer Stables to get help and more Cookies—the player whose team of elves has earned the most Cookies by the end of Christmas Eve is the winner.

Santa's Workshop
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over the nine days before Christmas, appropriately from 16th December (the date of our “Un-Christmas Dinner”) up to and including Christmas Eve.  Each gift card shows what it is made of and how much assembly it will need, as well as how many Cookies it will earn when it is completed.  One of the things that makes this game a little different to other worker placement games is that players are unable to store resources:  elves must first acquire the gift card, then the materials to make the gift (wood, plastic, fabric and metal), and only then can the elves assemble the gift.

Santa's Workshop
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that the elf is taking the pieces to the assembly room and making it there, so timing is everything.  If a player visits receives five pieces of wood, but can only use three, the other two go to waste. Players can improve their situation by getting some of their elves trained—this costs a turn, but a visit to the School Room means they can use this additional skill to produce more material or assemble things more efficiently.  The question is whether this is worth the effort as the game is played over just nine days with only three turns per day (or four at lower player counts).

Santa's Workshop
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Burgundy started fast and took the bonus Cookies for the most productive team at the end of the 18th December, but by the end of the Christmas Eve, Ivory and Pink were getting the most Cookies for being the most productive while Blue and Burgundy’s attentions were elsewhere. Ivory started out making a lovely wooden music box, but then moved rapidly into making plastic tat.  Selling coal to Santa was also highly lucrative (Santa always needs coal to give to naughty children).

Santa's Workshop
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue did the reverse, starting by making Lego bricks with lots of plastic and then moving on to making dressing up clothes and a lovely teddy bear which she failed to assemble.  Burgundy also struggled with his assembly and spent quite a lot of time visiting the stable and petting Comet (to take the first player marker) or Donna (to obtain the assistance of Zelf to get extra material).  Pink similarly struggled and felt it was important to prioritise being the first player at certain points during the game.

Santa's Workshop
– Image by boardGOATS

It was a very close game and the final few turns were really critical as players tried to make sure they completed everything they could and most realised they couldn’t finish  what they wanted to.  Ivory thought he might just make it and gambled on getting enough visits to the assembly room to do what he needed.  In contrast, Blue pragmatically took the Cookies from Dasher’s stable and gave up all hope that she might be able to assemble her gifts.  And that made the difference, giving Blue victory, finishing ten Cookies ahead of Ivory, with Pink just behind in third.

Santa's Workshop
– Image by boardGOATS

Although not an exceptional game, Santa’s Workshop is unquestionably one of the best festive games we’ve played—all the more so as it has a genuine Christmas theme rather than simply being “snowy”.  Sadly, the pieces lack a little something, especially Santa, but we made up for that by stealing the bits from Christmas Penguins, which we played a couple of years ago and had great bits, but lacked something in the game-play.  The game itself was purchased in a couple of years ago and sent on by a friend in Australia, but first got caught in the bush fires there and then playing it was delayed by Covid when last year’s Christmas Event was online; the verdict was that it was worth the wait though.

Santa's Workshop
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, the rest of the group settled down to play Carcassonne: Winter Edition.  This is essentially the same as the original “blue box version” of the tile playing game, Carcassonne, but with a pretty snowy scheme, which everyone agreed they preferred to the usual version.  So, as with the original, the game play is very simple:  on their turn, the active player plays a tile, adding it to the map (ensuring all the edges agree) and then optionally place a meeple on the tile before scoring any completed features.

Carcassonne: Winter Edition
– Image by boardGOATS

The features on the tiles include city segments, roads and cloisters.  Players score two points for each tile in a city or road they own if it is completed during the game, or one point at the end if incomplete.  Similarly, Cloisters score nine points when completely surrounded or one point for the central tiles and each surrounding it at the end of the game.  The clever part of the game is that while players cannot add a meeple to a feature that is already owned by another player, these can be joined together and then shared so that both players score.

Carcassonne: Winter Edition
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the group also included the the Lebkuchenmann expansion.  This consists of additional Gingerbread Man tiles mixed in with the base game; when drawn, the player moves the brown Gingerbread Meeple to an unfinished city of their choice.  Before he is moved, however, the current city containing the Gingerbread Man is scored.   Each player receives points for the number of meeples they have in the city multiplied by the number of tiles in the city.  Thus, even players that only one meeple in the city when their opponents have more get a few points.

Carcassonne: Winter Edition
– Image by boardGOATS

The Gingerbread Man also leaves the current city when someone adds the tile that completes it and the Gingerbread Man is scored just before the normal scoring.  This means it is sometimes desirable to finish someone else’s city, in order to move the Gingerbread Man or to make them earn fewer points for it.  The clever part about the Lebkuchenmann expansion is that it can be played in both a friendly and a spiteful way.

Carcassonne: Winter Edition
– Image by boardGOATS

Very early in the game, Green, Purple and Lilac all found themselves with cities which looked all but impossible to close out.  Black went for an early “Farmer”, making snow angels and Green followed suit.  “Farmers” only score at the end of the game, giving points for the number of cities the field supplies, but they tie up the meeples for the rest of the game and, if placed early can end up being cut off yielding a poor score.  So, only time would tell whether this would prove to be a master move or a waste of a good meeple.

Carcassonne: Winter Edition
– Image by boardGOATS

Lilac was building herself a nice big city, obtained the first Gingerbread Man and placed it into her growing metropolis.  This attracted the attention of Pine who set up camp in a small city across the open divide.  On his next turn he got exactly the tile he needed (a city tile with two opposite open ends), and joined the two together.  When the city was completed shortly after, both Pine and Lilac scored, not just for the city, but for the Gingerbread Man too. This put them both out into a commanding lead on the score board, with Pine half a dozen points ahead—a lead he would not relinquish for the rest of the game.

Carcassonne: Winter Edition
– Image by boardGOATS

In the meantime, the rest of the group kept drawing road tiles.  The Gingerbread Meeple was very handy to get some of the awkward, incomplete cities to score at least something, as he hopped around the board giving out gifts.  As the snowy scene expanded and grew, more farmers were placed, more cities were completed, and roads wiggled their way round the landscape joining areas previously separated.  As one of his last moves, Green found the one tile that would fit into the gap next to his first city to complete it. This did something else, too, that would have a game-changing impact, though nobody realised it until scoring.

Carcassonne: Winter Edition
– Image by boardGOATS

With the last tile placed everyone scored their uncompleted cities, roads and cloisters.  At this point Pine was still in front, with Lilac not too far behind in second—the Farmers were going to be key.  Black and Green had managed to maneuver two Farmers each into the same massive field, but sadly Purple’s lone farmer got booted out.  Lilac had a couple of farmers on the other side of the board, one gave her two cities and the other gave her three, just enough to push her ahead of Pine (who had eschewed the whole farming in the snow business as being too cold for him).

Carcassonne: Winter Edition
– Image by boardGOATS

Green’s and Black’s Farmers had amassed a total of huge total of ten cities for their shared field, which brought them right into contention.  Scores were just about to be added to the board when Black pointed out that his (and Green’s) field went further round and actually swallowed Lilac’s farmer with three cities due to the tile placed by Green to complete that city.  So Lilac lost nine of her points and Green’s and Black’s new field total was for thirteen cities giving them thirty-nine points each.  This leapfrogged both of them ahead of Pine and Lilac, with Green coming out a few points on top.  A close game, everyone enjoyed.  This edition is a worthy edition with the Lebkuchenmann expansion a perfect little festive addition too.

"Un-Christmas Party" 2021
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  ‘Elf and Safety is everyone’s business.

Spiel des Jahres Nominations 2021

The nominations for the Spiel des Jahres have been announced.  There are three categories, the Kinderspiel (children’s game) , the Kennerspiel (“expert’s” game) and the most desirable of all, the family award, the Spiel des Jahres.  The nominees for this year’s awards have been announced as:

  • Kinderspiel des Jahres
    Kinderspiel des Jahres 2019Dragomino by Bruno Cathala, Marie Fort and Wilfried Fort
    Fabelwelten (aka Storytailors) by Wilfried Fort and Marie Fort
    Mia London by Antoine Bauza and Corentin Lebrat

Last year, the winner of the Spiel des Jahres was Pictures, a game where players model the picture on their card using the available components, e.g. shoelaces, coloured cubes, etc.; players get points for correctly guessing other players images and for other players guessing their image.  This is considerably lighter than some of the earlier winners, notably, Tikal and El Grande, or even some of the best known winners like The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride.  As the main award winners have become lighter over the years, we have found the Kennerpiel des Jahres better fits to our tastes.  The Kennerspiel nominees are not especially complex games, but are typically a step up from the light, family-friendly games of the main prize, the Spiel des Jahres.

– Image by from spiel-des-jahres.de

Last year the Kennerspiel award went to The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine a game we have still been unable to play thanks to the global pandemic.  The Crew beat our preferred choice, Cartographers.  In contrast to The Crew, as a “Roll and Write” game, we have played Cartographers a lot.  So far, we are unfamiliar with the nominees this year and likely won’t get the chance to play any of them until some time after the winners have been announced (19th July in Berlin for the Kennerpiel and Spiel des Jahres Awards; 14th June for the Kinderspiel des Jahres).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

 

Boardgames in the News: Fake Games from a High Street Name

As reported previously, fake and counterfeit goods are not uncommon online, especially with purchases from certain auction sites.  Even companies like Amazon are not immune though, thanks to co-mingling of stock with that from other third-party sellers and returned items.  More recently, however, there have been lots of reports of issues with copies of Pandemic, Dead of Winter, Carcassonne, Catan, and Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle bought from Zavvi.  This is of note, not because of the games (which have been targeted before), but because Zavvi is a reputable high street name.

Pandemic
– Image by BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Zavvi is owned by The Hut Group (aka THG), along with a range of other companies that sell everything from lipstick to language services.  The Hut Group also own I Want One of Those (aka IWOOT) who have recently been selling quite a lot of games at a good price including Sagrada, Horrified, and Ticket to Ride: London.  There doesn’t appear to be any question of the authenticity of these games, but IWOOT have been selling copies of Dead of Winter, Pandemic, Carcassonne and Hogwarts Battle too and these also seem to be fakes, presumably from the same, communal supply as the Zavvi games.

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
– Image by BGG contributor zgabor

Both Zavvi and IWOOT have been reluctant to acknowledge that the games are fake insisting to customers that they “do not handle fake goods”, they “source all stock direct from the brand suppliers”, and “items sold by ourselves are not counterfeit”.    Neither Zavvi nor IWOOT are known for selling counterfeits.  So, assuming it is against company policy, how their supply chain became contaminated is an interesting question and it is possible that they themselves have been the subject of a deception.  It seems unlikely that these fakes were supplied through the usual UK distribution channels, but it is possible they were bought in good faith from another supplier.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image by BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Perhaps the biggest issue here is the poor Customer Service people have reportedly received, including standard unhelpful replies or an offer of only a partial refund.  It seems persistence is the only answer, though reporting the company to the Trading Standards and/or the finance handling service (credit card company or PayPal), can help.  For those struggling with IWOOT, suggesting to Customer Services that they look at “ISM ticket 1195382” can also help (ISM is the Ivanti Service Manager ticketing system).

Boardgames in the News: Carcassonne Catches Catan

Board Game Geek (BGG) is arguably the foremost website for information on board games.  It includes a forum for discussion, but also an extensive database currently comprising nearly a hundred and twenty thousand games with associated reviews, photos, publication details and rules clarifications.  There are over two million registered users of the site, many of whom use the BGG to record the games they own, log each time they play, and register their ratings of games in the database.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

For many years, the most rated game according to the BGG website was The Settlers of Catan but it has now been overtaken by Carcassonne (95,496 and 95,499 ratings respectively as of 1am BST on Sunday 19th July).  Over the coming weeks the numbers will fluctuate and the tide will ebb and flow, but it looks like Catan, which was released in 1995 (five years before Carcassonne), has been caught.  The race is not over, however, Pandemic is not far behind…

Carcassonne
– Image by boardGOATS

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.