Tag Archives: Castles of Mad King Ludwig

1st May 2018

When we played Mini Park a couple of weeks ago, we had all found it a little underwhelming.  At the time we had felt it might be better with fewer people, so as it was a very short game, while we were waiting for food to arrive, we decided to give it another try. The game is a hexagonal tile-laying game where players choose one character which dictates the end game scoring.  We played the “advanced” game which has slight changes to the scoring and pairs each scoring character at random with a second character.  The latest version of the rules suggest that these subsidiary characters should be kept secret, but we felt that would make things a little bit too random.  We did adopt the simpler in-game scoring though.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

This time there were only three players, so everyone got two characters instead of one:  Burgundy took the people (Man and Child); Blue took the wildlife (Fish and Bird), and Magenta got everything else (Cyclist and Cat).  Unquestionably it was better this time round.  The Fish was still very powerful, but this time it was largely luck of the draw as Blue took it early and then managed to draw lots of pond tiles, netting her a massive forty-five points, with Magenta getting twenty-two.  The Cyclist was a lot less powerful this time though, and combinations of main character and subsidiary had a much stronger effect as well.  For example, while Blue had two of the strongest main characters, her subsidiaries were the weakest; on the other hand, Magenta and Burgundy had a much more even distribution of points across the board.  The end score was much closer this time, and despite the obvious high Fish score, it wasn’t the foregone conclusion of last time.  Nevertheless, wildlife won in the end with Blue finishing on eighty-six, ten ahead of Magenta in second place.

Mini Park
– Image by boardGOATS

With Mini Park and food over, it was time to play something more serious, and we moved on to the “Feature Game”, Lords of Xidit.  This is a reimplementation of the simultaneous programming game, Himalaya, which has a very unusual scoring mechanism.  The game is set in the fantasy land of Xidit, which is under attack.  The last hope for restoring peace lies with the Kingdom’s noble heirs, the Idrakys, who must travel the Kingdom recruiting brave soldiers and restoring the threatened cities.  The game board is a map of Xidit, depicting the cities, on which double-sided tiles are placed, showing either recruitment or threats.  The game is played over twelve years with each year consisting of players giving their Idrakys six secret orders using a special player board, and then executing them in order.  There are three possible orders for the Idrakys:  moving along one of the three road types; in a city, either recruit a Unit or eliminate a threat (depending which side the tile is showing); or wait.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The catch is that if the action is possible, it must be carried out, so if the order is move along a green road, that is what it must do.  Similarly, if a player’s Idrakys is in a city where the tile is recruitment face up, they must recruit a Unit.  The Units come in five different types, in order of increasing power: Peasant Militia; Archers; Infantry; Clerics, and Battle Mages which are orange, green, grey, white and purple respectively.  When the city tiles are Recruitment side up, they hold five Units, in predetermined colours, and when recruiting, players can only take one Unit and it must be the least powerful available.  These Units can then be used to defeat a Threats in exchange for Gold Sovereigns, placing their Bards or add Stories to the city’s Sorcerers’ Guild Tower if it is their own.  When a Threat or Recruitment tile is removed, another is drawn from the respective stack and placed on the appropriate city.  If there are insufficient tiles in the Treat stack, then the Titan tiles are turned over, to the Raging Titan’s side—these are super-aggressive Threats that are not associated with a city and can be eliminated in a similar way to other Threats.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of boargamephotos

At the end of the fourth, eighth and final (twelfth) year, there is a Military census where, beginning with the Peasant Militia (and continuing with the others in turn), players secretly hold a number of Units in their hands before a simultaneous reveal.  The player with the most of Units receive a reward; players are not obliged to reveal all their Units of that type, indeed, bluffing can be a good idea when trying to mislead players at the end of the game.  This is because the final census is followed by a series of assessments, where the weakest player in each one is eliminated until one player is left.  Each assessment ranks the players based on either their Wealth, their level of Influence with the magical community, or their Reputation across the Kingdom.  The last player remaining at the end of the assessment stage is the winner.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game looks complicated, but was actually surprisingly easy as long as the Threat/Recruitment piles are managed effectively.  Game play is also very quick, much to everyone’s surprise: it never took too long to work out what the six actions were going to be and even when someone took a bit longer than usual it was never excessive.  Carrying out the actions was very quick too—players barely had time after completing one action before it was time for the next.  As such this game does not suffer from “Analysis Paralysis” and there never seemed to be any down time, unusual for a game like this and a welcome change.  The other curiosity was that even though there is never anything hidden (although items are hidden behind a players screen, they are collected in the open, so it is entirely possible for players to keep track of how each other are doing) no-one had any real idea of who was actually winning.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

There were the occasional blunders as someone miscalculated and carried out the wrong action (such as going to a city to recruit just after someone took the last unit), or as in the case of Pine towards the end, looking at the wrong Idrakys counter when working out route and actions for the turn.  On the whole though, everyone was were able to plan the sequence of commands each “year” without difficulty.  The key to this game, however, is probably keeping a close eye on which Threat/Recruitment tiles are due to come out in the next couple of turns to try to plan an efficient route and arrive at the right city at the right time.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The unique elimination based scoring system worked well, keeping everyone guessing who would win right to the end. By the end of the game, Green and Black had both managed to build all their towers (the final round of elimination scoring), while Pine had the least. The Bard tokens (the penultimate elimination round) seemed relatively close, but Burgundy and Pine had both been fighting over the hidden central citadel so that outcome was unknown.  Before these two assessments could be addressed, players have to survive the elimination round for gold coins, and these are hidden.  Green had got off to a good start and gained a lot of gold at the beginning of the game; given his strong position in with respect to towers and bard tokens on the board he looked like the front runner. Unfortunately, he had neglected to collect gold later in the game and ended up with the least, just one less than Black, so was out in the first elimination round.

Lords of Xidit
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

Then there was a discussion as to whether Green’s Bard tokens should be taken off the board and disregarded now he had been eliminated.  The answer didn’t seem to be in the rules, but it was at that point that we realised we should have scored everything first and then gone through the elimination checks so Green’s bard tokens remained.  Towards the end of the game, there had been a flurry players placing Bard tokens and, as a result Green again had the lowest Bard score, but since he had already been eliminated, Black was the next to go, leaving only Pine and Burgundy in the Sorcerers’ Guild Tower elimination round.  We knew that Black and Green had the most, but as they had both been eliminated it the best of the rest, and that was Burgundy. This was a surprise to everyone as he and Pine would have been knocked out much earlier, demonstrating that playing to win (i.e. concentrating on the final elimination) is not the way to play this game.

Lords of Xidit
– Image by BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Overall everyone really enjoyed it:  it was fast, fun and there were a few surprises too. Nobody of us felt it was award-winning, but it was certainly one we would play again, and probably more than once.  Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, everyone else was playing Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a tile laying game where players are building an extravagant castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, one room at a time.  Rooms selected randomly are sold off in batches with one player, the Master Builder, setting the prices for each room in the batch.  Payment is made to the Master Builder (similar to the auctions in Goa), but as they are the last player to buy, there is a large element of “I divide, you choose” (similar to games like …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne).  Thus, the idea is that the Master Builder wants to arrange the tiles such that rooms desired by the other players are expensive, but generally not too expensive, and similar to Goa, having a lot of money is powerful, but when you spend it, you give that advantage to the active player.  The other interesting mechanism is controlling the room layout so that rooms that work well together are daisy-chained yielding the most points.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

When a room is placed, points are scored for that room, but also the room it is attached to.  Most of the points are dependent on the type of room they are connected to, so, a large purple living room with (say) six doors, will score every time a room is added to it.  If it scores two points for every “blue sleeping room” that is connected to it, it will score two points when it is first placed (next to a sleeping room, but four when the next is added to it, then six and so on.  However, the difficult part is trying to find six blue rooms that also score when they are placed next to a purple living room.  Balancing the synergistic effects are really what make the game interesting.  When a room is completed, there is a bonus, this can be extra points or some other advantage like an extra turn or money etc..

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

At the end of the game there are also bonus points for the player who best fulfils the requirements for the “King’s Favours” as well as points for personal bonuses.  The game uses a card-deck to determine which rooms are drawn and when it is exhausted it triggers the end-game.  One last round is played before all the bonuses are calculated and the winner is the player who finishes with the most points.  Although we played this quite a bit a couple of years ago, it has been neglected of late, and as a result, we had to recap the rules.  The problem with it is, the scoring when rooms are placed is a little counter intuitive, so a bit like Roll for the Galaxy, it is a game we often struggle with at first.  In fact, when it first came out, Blue and Magenta played it a few times, but only realised how the game “worked” when they played with a new player who just intuitively understood how to score heavily, and gave them a trouncing.  Although Blue had somehow forgotten again, it turned out that Magenta had not.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor punkin312

Blue started off buying a tile in error and thereafter was forced down a orange utility room strategy:  these tend to give fewer points when placed, but give bonus cards that score at the end of the game.  Clearly it was a game that wasn’t going to go well for Blue as, forced to which card to keep, the first card she discarded gave bonus points for money, and after a couple of rounds, it was clear this would have scored heavily for her if she had kept it. Purple had also played the game a few times before and also suffered the mental block associated with scoring.  She tried to build a lot of downstairs rooms and gardens, but again wasn’t able to get the room placement scoring to work for her.  Ivory was completely new to the game, and could be forgiven for not grasping the subtleties, but he was still in second place before the end game scoring and was clearly collecting blue sleeping rooms for an end-game bonus.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Early on, Magenta had managed to place a large purple Vestibule that scored four points for every adjoining yellow food room.  The key is, not only does each food room score four points, but they score every time another room is added.  With four doors and three of them leading to food rooms, this room alone scored her more than twenty-five points, which might have explained why Magenta was nearly twenty points clear before the end game scoring.  The final round was triggered when we ran out of room cards and that was followed by the Favour scoring.  Purple scored best here, picking up points in every category, but doing particularly well for her downstairs rooms.  The final scoring was the orange bonus cards.  Everyone thought that this was where Blue would make up ground as she had a fist full of them.  Unfortunately for her, none scored very well and some didn’t score at all.  Magenta had managed to pick up a few at the end of the game which scored well, meaning she finished some twenty-five points clear of everyone else who finished in a little group with a spread of just three points, with purple just beating the other two to take second place.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Both games finished at around the same time, and there was just enough time for something fun and not too long, so we opted for another game of one of our favourite, relaxing, light dice-chuckers, Las Vegas.  Despite the fact that we play this game a lot, Ivory had somehow missed out.  We thought it might be because he often leaves early and we often play it at the end of the evening.  Since he was sticking about this time, we all felt an introduction was essential.  The rules do not sound inspiring, and Ivory didn’t look terribly impressed.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot drawn at random from a deck of money that comprises anything from one to eight notes; the player with the most dice in a casino takes first choice, then the second and so on.

– Image by boardGOATS

There are two little rules that make the game work: firstly, players must place all the dice of one number, and secondly, before any money is handed out, any dice involved in a draw are removed.  It is these rules that make the game interesting, raising the decisions above the trivial.  Although the base game only plays five, we add the Boulevard expansion, which adds more players, more high value notes, and big dice, which are “double weight” so increase the stress when bidding.  We also add the Slot Machine, where each number can be placed once, but only once, so it gives players another nice alternative to the conventional casinos.  The rules the player with the most money after four rounds is the winner, but the fourth round often drags, especially if you don’t feel you are in with a chance, so we generally house-rule it to three rounds. Despite his obvious misgivings, it wasn’t long before Ivory was chucking dice with everyone else and having great fun.  Unusually, Green, Blue and Burgundy scored quite well, but Pine thought he had it with his $370,000 until Ivory revealed is massive $440,000.  Definitely beginners luck…

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes experience pays, other times beginners benefit.

Essen 2015

October is the time of year when a boardgamer’s thoughts turn to Germany, specifically, Essen.  Essen is the ninth largest German city and most people in the UK have never heard of it.  Most people who are not gamers that is.  In German, the word “Essen” means “food”, but to gamers it means “Spiel”:  the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world, The Internationale Spieltage is held every year in Essen.  The fair runs for four days every year and is the one of the largest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions.   As such, many of the manufacturers plan their biggest releases for October with their debut at the Fair.  This year, there are lots of exciting new games, including Richard Breese’s new game, Inhabit the Earth, Favor of the Pharaoh, and the highly acclaimed games Codenames and The Voyages of Marco Polo.  There are also a number of expansions for some of our favourite games including Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Evolution, Istanbul, Colt Express etc.  Only two of us are going this year, however, they will almost certainly bring back lots of exciting new toys to share with everyone.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com

2nd June 2015

After the bustle of last time with three parallel games, it felt really quiet to be back to a single table.  Unfortunately, the missing people were those that the “Feature Game”, Bania had been aimed at, but we decided to give it a go anyhow as it was supposed to be short.  It had also received an uncharacteristically poor review in the latest edition of the SpielBox magazine, and we were curious as to why.

Bania in SpielBox
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is simple enough, comprising the elements of hand-management and tile laying.  The idea of the game is that players are building tents in the desert.  When they build a tent, there is no cost if they can place it next to other tents of the right colour, otherwise they must any additional cost in cards from their hand.  Thus if a tile needs red, purple and yellow but can only be placed next to a red and yellow, a purple card is also required.  On their turn, the active player can place as many tiles as they want to from their hand four and if they place all four, then they can draw another four tiles and keep going as long as they want or are able.  Once they can no longer place tent tiles or otherwise choose to stop, they draw tiles to replenish their hand back to four and play passes to the next player.

Bania
– Image by boardGOATS

Points are scored during the game for building tents which can be placed more or less anywhere.  However, once a settlement consists of seven tiles it is “complete” and it cannot be added to.  Adding to a growing settlement scores one point whereas starting a new one scores three points.  Thus extending a settlement costs less, but also earns fewer points  and the key part of the game is the source of cards.  These come from the elephant:  if it is on the board at the start of the active player’s turn then they can take a card corresponding to each colour present in that settlement.  When a settlement is completed, the elephant is returned to its owner and will yield nothing at the start of their next turn (although they can place it on any tile they as they lay it).  So players want their elephant to stay in a settlement consisting of four different colours, but want to complete it themselves so they can place it again straight away.

Bania
– Image by boardGOATS

In the event that a player needs more cards then they have, instead of laying tiles (and placing their elephant), they can roll the four dice a total of three times, saving as many as they choose from each roll.  There are six options corresponding to the four colours, and additionally an elephant’s head and an “elephant aaarrrse” (as it quickly became known thanks to Grey and his cool accent). A complete elephant gives the player their “elephant cards” again (which is only useful if the elephant is on the board), otherwise they get the resources shown on the dice.  The game ends when no more tiles can be placed and the winner is the player with the most points once the all important bonus points (for the player with the most of each resource) have been added to the tally.

Bania
– Image by boardGOATS

Grey got the game under way but it was Burgundy who showed us how to deal with the elephant.  By completing the settlement his elephant was occupying and then placing a new tile, he was able to pick up cards at the start of consecutive rounds.  Meanwhile, Green picked up on another trick for scoring extra points.  Starting a new settlement and then placing a second tent tile to link it to another settlement could give four points for the cost of three cards if the placement was chosen carefully;  placing the tiles in the same place but reversing the order could still cost three cards, but would only yield two points.  Eventually, we came into the home straight, but as it was all quite tight, bonus points suddenly seemed really, really important so nobody wanted to end it and we spent nearly two full rounds just collecting cards before the last tile was laid.  In the end it was a tight game with just five points between first and last, but Blue finished in front, two points ahead of Burgundy.

Bania
– Image by boardGOATS

We had had very little difficulty with the rules of Bania, but quickly realised that the chief downside of the game was “analysis paralysis”.  Because each player can place as many tiles as they want, there is very little planning a player can do in advance as everything will have changed by the time it is their turn.  The fact players couldn’t plan much in advance slowed everything down a lot (we even managed trips to the bar between turns!), although we felt this might be a bit alleviated a little with fewer players as the rounds wouldn’t seem quite so long.  The analysis was sometimes a bit negative too as it was often a case of, “Can’t do this, or this or this, so, um, well, I’ll have to do something with these then…”  On reflection, we decided that part of the problem was that we all got a bit hung-up on picking up “cheap single points” for adding to settlements rather than trying to get the three points for starting a new one.  The biggest problem we found, however, was simply that the game outstayed its welcome – the box claimed it would take half an hour and it took us well over twice that.  We still weren’t sure it deserved the stand-out negative review that it got from SpielBox though.

Bania
– Image by boardGOATS

Next we had a big discussion as to what to play next.  Green had some new toys he was desperate to play with, but Blue felt that since Grey could stay as long as he wanted this time, it was a good opportunity to play something a bit longer.  Burgundy had played recently been introduced to Castles of Mad King Ludwig and had loved it and was keen to give it another go, so that clinched it.  Grey and Green were new to it, so Blue explained while Burgundy got on with arranging tiles chipping in when Blue missed stuff out.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a tile laying game where players are building an amazing, extravagant castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, one room at a time.  Rooms selected randomly are sold off in batches with one player, the Master Builder, setting the prices for each room in the batch.  Payment is made to the Master Builder (similar to the auctions in Goa), but as they are the last player to buy, there is a large element of “I divide, you choose” (similar to games like …Aber Bitte Mit Sahne).  Thus, the idea is that the Master Builder wants to arrange the tiles such that rooms desired by the other players are expensive, but generally not too expensive, and similar to Goa, having a lot of money is powerful, but when you spend it, you give that advantage to the active player.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

The other interesting mechanism is controlling the room layout so that rooms that work well together are daisy-chained yielding the most points.  When a room is placed, points are scored for that room, but also the room it is attached to.  Most of the points are dependent on the type of room they are connected to, so, a large purple living room with (say) six doors, will score every time a room is added to it.  If it scores two points for every “blue sleeping room” that is connected to it, it will score two points when it is first placed (next to a sleeping room, but four when the next is added to it, then six and so on.  However, the difficult part is trying to find six blue rooms that also score when they are placed next to a purple living room.  Balancing the synergistic effects are really what make the game interesting.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

When a room is completed, there is a bonus, this can be extra points or some other advantage like an extra turn or money etc..  At the end of the game there are also bonus points for the player who best fulfills the requirements for the “King’s Favours” as well as points for personal bonuses.  The game uses a card-deck to determine which rooms are drawn and when it is exhausted it triggers the end-game.  One last round is played before all the bonuses are calculated and the winner is the player who finishes with the most points.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Burgundy started off launching himself into the lead with the aid of several yellow food rooms which gave him an extra turn.  Green and Blue started out fighting over the downstairs rooms before Blue took herself off and started building purple living spaces to try to compete for one of the King’s Favours.  Meanwhile, Grey was struggling a little with the peculiarities of scoring but as he got the hang of it, he started to amass points with several large red activity rooms.  It was when Blue jumped from a distant fourth place to the front of the pack by completing a purple living room surrounded by corridors, which when completed was re-scored giving her some twenty-plus points in one round, that the game was blown apart.  Blue had built up a significant lead, but Burgundy and Grey were catching her, when the game moved into the final round leaving it all down to the bonuses.  Grey took the highly contested points for “square rooms”, and Green took the points for the most downstairs rooms.  Blue took the points for small rooms and purple rooms.  It was really the personal bonus cards that made the difference though, and they left Blue the winner, some ten points clear of Burgundy.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Experience often helps.

4th Movember 2014

We were a little hesitant about pointing guns at each other in the pub, even foam ones, but that didn’t stop us starting the evening with a game of Ca$h ‘n Guns. This is a fun and silly game that we’ve not played before with the group.  It is based on the premise that the players are gangsters trying to split up the spoils of a robbery and being gangsters, they play a game of chicken to decide who gets the loot.  So, enough loot cards are set out in the middle of the table for one each, and each player starts with a magazine of bullet cards.  Most of the bullets are blanks, but a small number are “live” and everyone secretly loads their “gun” with a single bullet.  One player, “The Boss” begins a countdown that ends with everyone simultaneously pointing their gun at another player.  The Boss (being The Boss) can then order one player to point his gun at someone else, after which, everyone gets a chance to back out (also simultaneously after a countdown).  Backing out means they won’t get shot, but also won’t get any money.   Players who backed out unload their gun in secret, while everyone else reveals their bullet cards.  Players who had a live gun pointed at them get a bit of sticking plaster and are out of the round so don’t get any loot.

Ca$h 'n Guns

We were playing the new, second edition of the game, so those that didn’t chicken out and survived (i.e didn’t get shot) then divide up the loot by taking it turns to choose the choicest pickings from the loot cards on display.  The players continue to take cards until they are all gone, so if a lot of people back out or get shot, the spoils are all the richer for those that remain.  Green started off collecting art-work, while Red and Blue went for jewellery.  Yellow and Cyan concentrated on money, but seemed quite determined to take each other out and both suffered as a consequence.  Aside from when Cyan aimed for Green and  accidentally “shot” the pub landlord, the game went without hitch; Red and Blue finished with the same amount of jewellery so neither got a bonus, which left Green to take the cream of the loot with his vast art collection (on the other hand, selling stolen art is risky, so he’ll certainly get caught by the police first!).

Ca$h 'n Guns

Next, we gave the “Feature Game”,  a try.  This was a new, Japanese game, called Secret Moon.  It is a small quick card game that is the sequel to one of our most played games, Love Letter, and tells the story about what happens when the Princess receives her message and goes out to meet her young man by the light of the Secret Moon.  From the rules:

One day, by chance, a letter reached her. The letter was not filled with vibrant words of love, or poem after poem praising the fair Princess and her beauty… as one might have wished. However, the contents did touch the princess’ heart.  “I have heard of you, and travelled from faraway in search of you. If I may ask, I would like to see you and tell you the tale of my travels here.”

The Princess made her decision, wrote her reply and entrusted it to a kind priestess.  “On the next night of the new moon, I will open the back door to the garden. If you please, could you retell your tale to me there?”

But someone overheard the exchange. The castle Minister. He feared that the Princess he had worked so hard to find the perfect groom for, would have her heart stolen by some wayward, suspicious Wanderer, so he ordered the Guards to watch her closely.  What fate awaits them? Will the Princess be able to hear the Wanderer’s tale, or will the Minister and the Guards get in their way?

Secret Moon

So, this game has a lot in common with Werewolf, in that there are two teams: those on the side of the Princess, and those on the side of the Minister, but while everyone knows which side they are on, only the Wanderer and the Princess know each other.  The idea is that there are three rounds i.e. each player gets three turns.  On their turn, players can inspect anyone’s card.  This means that they know definitively who that person is, but only they know.  Players can also ask, “Who goes there?”  Different characters respond in different ways, thus the Minister replies, “You fool! I’m the Minister!” whereas the Guards respond, “It’s just me!” and the Princess and the Wanderer remain silent.  The Priestess is a curious character: When the Princess asked her for help, she was quick to accept, but officially, she is helping the Minister.  So, in reality, the Priestess is the third member of the Princess’ team, but if asked, she says the same thing as a Guard.  This allows her to buy time for the Princess by masking her whereabouts e.g. by hiding in the first round to draw false suspicion or she can accuse the Guards like the Wonderer might.

Secret Moon

We played a total of three games of this in the end.  The game begins with one player dealing out turn order cards and character cards, so Green got to go first.  The game is supposed to be played with no table-talk, but in the first game, we chatted a bit to try to understand what was going on.  The Princess’ team trapped the Minister (Green), and since he was the start player, there was nothing he could do about it.  One of the features of this game is that, like Love Letter, a card is is put to one side in order to make the game a little more unpredictable.  So, in the second game, imagine her consternation when Cyan, as the Princess found she was all on her own.  Things came to a head when she was asked, “Who goes there?” and, with no-one to hide behind, was quickly captured.  But there was something that was not right.  After some discussion we came to the conclusion that it seemed very deterministic in that it all depended on the round order.  That precipitated a quick re-reading of the rules and there, in black and white it clearly said, “Go back to step 1 with shuffling the turn order cards and play another round.”  So we gave it a third try…

Secret Moon

This time, things started badly when the Red was the first player to be asked, “Who goes there?”, thus identifying herself as either the Princess or the Wanderer.  She managed to hide for a round or so, but the Minister eventually succeeded in capturing the Princess (who was indeed Red).  It was definitely much improved with the change to the turn order every round though, but it was clear that most people were a bit unconvinced.  In truth, it is probably one of those games that needs the right group of players and most of them know what they are doing for it to really sing.  Since it is so small, however, it is a game that will be carried around readily, but it may be difficult to persuade people to play it again.

Secret Moon

Red, Cyan and Yellow had an early start so headed off, leaving the rest to discuss the viability of the group without Azure and Orange who are no longer able to make Tuesdays.  The discussion rambled on for a while getting no-where, until Black suggested we played something.  So, after a number of options were (literally) put on the table, we decided to have another go at Istanbul.  We played this last time, but only Green had been involved in the game as everyone else had been playing Castles of Mad King Ludwig.  Since we didn’t have long, we played the “short routes” like last time.

Istanbul

This time, Black tried Azure’s strategy of making money in the Tea House and buying Diamonds.  Green started the same way, with a visit to the Small Mosque to pick up the tile that allows players to alter their dice rolls.  However,  he then decided to try something different and ended up wandering around the Great Mosque/Post Office area with Purple, who had started out well, collecting enough goods to get a tile from the Great Mosque, but then lost her way a little.  Meanwhile, Blue started out avoiding everyone else with a quick trip to the Post Office then made a visit to the Wainwright to expand her cart to hold three of each goods type.  She then got very lucky in the Black Market picking up three lots of jewellery (blue goods) on each of her two visits.  This left her with a lot of collateral to trade at the Sultan’s Palace and the Large Market as well as being able to pick up both tiles from the Great Mosque quite cheaply and her first gemstone with it.

Istanbul

While all this was going on, Black was picking off the early gems at the Dealer, moving back and forth between the Tea House to collect money and the Wainwright to expand his barrow it looked like the game was his to lose.  For his fourth gem, he needed more money than he could easily get in one round, and Blue was just behind with a decision to make.  She needed sixteen Lire and an assistant, but could she get them before Black, who went before her in turn order?  If she went to the Tea House to get the money, she would have enough, but since Black’s Merchant was already there, she would have to give him two Lire which was sufficient for him to go to the Gem Dealer and end the game.  So, she went to the Post Office and then popped into the Police Station to free her Family Member and send him to the Jewellers in her stead, bringing the game to a close one gem ahead of Black.  Last time everyone enjoyed it, but this time it had a more mixed reception:  while Blue liked it, Purple actively disliked it, and everyone else agreed that it needed to be played with the more challenging layouts to make it more interesting.

Istanbul

Learning Outcome:  Games work better when you play them according to the rules!

 

23rd October 2014: A Post Essen Special

This was a special Thursday night meeting because we’d had to cancel Tuesday (because the pub was holding a Chinese Night) and everyone who went to the Spieltage in Essen couldn’t wait to show off their new toys!  As it was a Thursday, we couldn’t use the pub, so we spent the evening at a private house in the village, something we used to do routinely after the fire, but haven’t done since the pub reopened.

Essen 2014

Typically, almost everyone came which meant we needed a second table!  While people arrived and drinks were found, Essen was discussed and the games played and bought were presented.  New games were the order of the day, so one table opted for Castles of Mad King Ludwig, while the other began with Istanbul, the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres.  It was exciting to break new games out of their shrink wrapping, but something that hadn’t been appreciated, was the time it would take to punch the components and learn the rules.

Frames

Although Castles of Mad King Ludwig had a lot of components to remove from their cardboard frame, at least the rules didn’t need to reading as one of the players had played it at Essen and was prepared to teach it.  Time was also saved someone the punching by using poker chips – although the components and box are generally really nice, the small cardboard money tokens are a little fiddly.

Poker Chips

The game itself is quite a simple game in many ways:  the idea is that players buy rooms to add to their castle.  A deck of cards is used to determine which rooms are available, and game ends when this deck has been exhausted.  The active player, or Master Builder then chooses the respective value of each room.  The clever part is the sale, an idea which appears to have been borrowed from Goa, where all monies are paid to the active player except for those spent by the active player, which go to the bank.  Thus, the idea is that the Master Builder wants to arrange the tiles such that rooms desired by the other players are expensive, but generally not too expensive, and similar to Goa, having a lot of money is powerful, but when you spend it, you generally give that advantage to the active player.

Castles of Mag King Ludwig

So, each room has a cost, but also a points value when placed, a size, and some sort of bonus for “completing” it.  A room is considered complete when every door leads to another room and this is where there is a spacial element to the game, since it is necessary to ensure that doors are laid out in such a way that rooms can be completed if appropriate.  The bonuses vary from an extra turn to money to extra victory point cards that are applied at the end of the game.  Some rooms also yield bonuses for “adjacency” which is determined on a room by room basis when the room is placed.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Ably assisted by Purple, Black explained the rules to Blue and Pink and then play began.  All was apparently proceeding well, when we discovered that despite the fact she was in the lead, Blue was unsure when the room bonuses applied – on placing, or to rooms added after placing.  This confusion was duly rectified (it is on placing) when we discovered that Pink hadn’t quite got a complete grasp of the rules either.  And then Purple, who was suffering with post-Essen lurgy, took her turn to have a fuzzy-rule moment.  Meanwhile, Black, who was concentrating on keeping everyone else on the straight and narrow found his castle was suffering a little and was starting to fall behind, so he quickly took measures to improve his situation by building a couple of Red rooms which yield a lot of points, though have some significant penalties if you get things wrong.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

As the game headed towards the conclusion, Black was clearly in front and pulling away, but that was without the final scoring.  At the end of the game there are points available for any bonus cards held by players as well as for winning the King’s Favour.  The King’s Favours are scored separately with points potentially available for the everyone as players are ranked and score points accordingly.  There are four competitions that change with each game, and in the four player game, first place earns eight points, with four, two and one for second, third and fourth place respectively.  In this game, the King favoured castles with the largest footprint of living and utility space, as well as those with a lot of corridors and circular rooms.   Having picked up a lot of orange utility rooms early in the game, Blue had a lot of bonus points to score as well as coming first in two of the Kings Favour competitions, taking her well clear of Black in second place.

Istanbul

Meanwhile, Green, Azure, Red and Orange battled their way through learning the rules to Istanbul.  This is also a fairly simple game where players are trying to lead their Merchant and his four Assistants through the Turkish bazaar.  There are sixteen locations each with an associated action, but to carry out an action, the Merchant needs an Assistant to help out.  The problem is, once an action has been completed, the Merchant must move on, however, the Assistant remains to complete the details of the transaction.  The play-area is made up of tiles representing each stall, so there are four possible layouts:  “Short”, where the distances between places that work well together are small making game-play easier; “Long”, where places that work well together are far apart, which forces players to plan ahead more; “Challenging”, where similar places are grouped together, and “Random”.  As nobody had played it before, we didn’t know quite what to expect, so for this game, we chose “Short”.

Istanbul

Thus, a player’s turn consists of moving their stack of pieces (with the Merchant on top) one or two stalls around the bazaar.  If the stack ends on a space where there is already an Assistant of the same colour, then the stack is placed on top of that Assistant, otherwise, the bottom Assistant in the stack is removed and placed next to the stack.  Then, if the play wants he can perform an action at that stall, for example, buy goods at the fabric, spice or fruit warehouses, sell goods at one of the markets, or buy gemstones from the dealer etc..  If the player does not have an Assistant to collect or leave, then the players turn ends straight away, similarly, if a player meets someone else’s Merchant, they must pay them two Lira each, and forfeit the right to an action.  Meeting one of the other characters in the game also has consequences:  the Governor allows players to buy bonus cards; the Smuggler allows players to buy or trade goods, and a family member can be captured and sent to the Police Station in return for a reward.  The game ends when a player has five rubies.

Istanbul

Each player tried different strategies and tactics and to begin with, everyone was quite close and before long, everyone had with two or three of the five required rubies.  At this point, Green and Red looked at the gem dealer and felt that his gems were very expensive and that it was going to be a while before anyone could get enough to end the game.  However, Orange was buying goods and then selling them in the market and then used his double buy bonus card to jump from two rubies to four. Meanwhile, Azure had gained a special bonus token that allowed her to change a dice roll and then set about visiting the “Tea House” and gambling on dice rolls.  With the ability to change dice rolls, it meant she could call higher and therefore win more money which she took next door to buy her rubies.  By the time Green and Red realised that Azure had enough to buy her remaining rubies, it was too late and Azure had secured the win.

Istanbul

Despite having to learn the game from scratch, Istanbul finished long before Castles of Mad King Ludwig, so they decided they liked the gem-stone theme and went on to play a game that is already quite well known within the group, but has been so popular that a copy was also purchased at Essen – Splendor.  From the group who had finished, only Green was familiar with it, so he took the responsibility of teaching.  Red started out collecting rubies, while Green bought onyx and diamond and Azure and Orange went for  across section.  Orange built up a stack of chips which enabled him to quickly build a good stack of non-scoring gem cards, these, in turn rapidly led to a lot of low level scoring cards. Red continued to concentrate on Rubies, but branched out a little and gaining some of the high scoring cards.  Then suddenly, one player remembered the option to reserve a card and take a gold token and before long everyone was doing it!  Green thought he was about to win and activated his saved five-point diamond card to claim three points for one of the Nobles (four onyx and four diamond) only to realise that he already had enough diamonds and it was onyx that he needed!  Meanwhile, Azure quietly got on with building a mixed set of gems cross-colour starting with low value, moving on to middle and finishing with high values and with it took the game.  No-one secured the patronage of a Noble, though Green came closest as he took second place.

Splendor

Azure and Orange, Green and Pink headed home leaving Blue, Red, Black and Purple with just time for a quick game of the Romeo and Juliet themed card game, Council of Verona.  This is another new game, but it has a lot in common with Love Letter, a quick little game that we’ve all played a lot and are very familiar with.  The idea of Council of Verona is that on their turn, they play a card (a Montague, a Capulet or a Neutral)  either in Exile or in Council.  Broadly speaking, the cards come in two categories:  cards with an action and cards with an agenda.  So once they’ve played a card, players then they choose whether to perform any action associated with that card and, if they wish, they may then play an influence token on any agenda cards in play.  Each player has three influence tokens, a zero, a three and a five.  At the end of the game, the influence tokens are evaluated for any agendas that have been successfully fulfilled and the scores totalled up accordingly.

Councils of Verona

The rules suggest that you play three rounds and draft the cards at the start, but since we were all unfamiliar with the game, all tired and two of us were suffering from post-Essen-lurgy, we decided to play just one quick game and deal the cards out randomly and try to get a feel for it.  Blue and Purple played Romeo and Juliet (who want to be together) into Council and added influence tokens, while Red played Prince Escalus (Neutral who wants council to be balanced) and added a token.  Blue then played Lord Montague (wants more Montagues on Council than Capulets) and Black, Red and Purple retaliated by shuffling things around.  Blue who went last, played Lady Montague allowing her to swap two influence tokens giving her a winning score.

Council of Verona

Learning Outcome:  New games are a lot of fun!

Essen 2014

It is that time of year once again, when a boardgamer’s thoughts turn to Germany, specifically, Essen.  Essen is a German city in the industrial heartland on the River Ruhr.  In German, “Essen” means “food”, but to gamers it means “Spiel” – the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world, The Internationale Spieltage (which is held in Essen of course).  The fair runs for four days every year and everyone who is anyone goes.   As in most years, a lot of new and exciting games are released at the Fair.  This year, amongst other things, there are expansions for some of our favourite games including Keyflower and Snowdonia.  There are (of course) lots of exciting new games as well, including Click & Crack, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Evolution, Five Tribes, Cat Tower, Subdivision etc.  There are a few of us going this year and it is certain that they will bring back some exciting new toys to play with.

Essen