Tag Archives: Christmas Tree

11th December 2018

Since this was the last meeting before Christmas, we did what we did last year and arranged to eat a little earlier so we could all share an “Un-Christmas Dinner” together, complete with festive crackers and party poppers.  Plans were nearly derailed by gridlock in Oxford that delayed Blue (and by extension the crackers, party poppers, cards and the “Feature Game”), and motorway traffic that slowed Pink in his long trip from the frozen north.  Between their arrival and food appearing, there was just time to play a little game of “Secret Christmas Cards” – the idea being that everyone got a suitably festive goaty card and a name, and write the card to that person signing it on behalf of the group.  Once we’d got over the lack of pens, the “game” seemed to go very well, though a lot of people didn’t open their card, saving the excitement for later.  Green arrived and his announcement that his divorce had come through was greeted with a round of applause.

Pizza at the Horse and Jockey
– Image from horseandjockey.org

Once the cards, pizza, “half a side of pig with egg and chips”, burgers and ice-cream had been dealt with, it was time for crackers.  We had been just about to pull them when food arrived, and knowing what was in them, Blue suggested they’d be better left till the end of the meal as people might not want cracker contents as a topping to their pizza!  It was just as well, because when everyone finally grabbed a couple of cracker ends and pulled, there was an explosion of dice, mini-meeples, wooden resources, tiny metal bells, bad jokes, party hats and festive confetti that went everywhere.  The table went from mostly ordered to complete devastation at a stroke, to which party popper detritus was quickly added.  It was immediately followed by everyone trying to work out where the bits from their cracker had ended up and as some people ferreted under the table, others began to read the jokes (which turned out to be quite repetitive).  While the table was being cleared, subject of the “Golden GOAT” award came up.  This had first been mentioned a few weeks back by Ivory who had suggested we should have a game that we’d played during the year that deserved an award (presumably he was completely unaware that “Golden Goat” is also a strain of marijuana).

"Un-Christmas Party" 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine suggested that there should also be an award acknowledging the worst game of the year, which eventually became the “GOAT Poo” award.  Unfortunately there wasn’t really a plan for how to go about doing this.  In the end, Ivory and Green tore up some slips of paper and passed them round with the book so everyone could “vote”.  The rules were quite simple, only games played at a GOATS games night in 2018 (i.e. appear in the log book) could be nominated and everyone got just one vote. There was real concern that we were just going to end up with a list of different titles and two nine-way ties, but surprisingly, that did not happen.  As the votes were read out, it became clear from the appreciative noises round the table that many of the picks were very popular choices, including Yokohama and Keyflower: The Farmers.  A couple of games managed the feat of appearing in both lists winning the unofficial “GOAT Marmite-factor” Award, namely Endeavor and Yardmaster.  The winner of the “2018 Golden GOAT” however was AltiplanoQueendomino took the “GOAT Poo” award with a third of the group nominating it (remarkable since only four of the people present had actually played it).

Golden GOAT - 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

There was also a special award for “possibly the best and worst moments of the year” which went to Purple and Green’s inability to play Rock-Paper-Scissors (during Walk the Plank! a few weeks back) and Burgundy, the perennial Saboteur name last time.  Eventually, the table was cleared and the inaugural “Golden GOAT” awards had been announced, so people’s thoughts turned to playing games.  This year Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries was a hot choice and with two copies, two games were quickly underway.  This is a variant of the very popular train game, but with a nice tight map designed specifically for two or three players and featuring a snowy festive theme.  The game play is almost exactly the same as the other versions, with players taking it turns to either draw carriage cards, or spend sets of carriage cards in appropriate colours to place plastic trains on the map.  There are a couple of things that really make the Ticket to Ride games work:  firstly, the longer the route, the more points it gets.  This often makes the longer routes very enticing, but this has to be set against the desirability of tickets (the second thing).

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

At the start of the game everyone chooses from a handful of ticket cards each depicting two cities and a value: players who manage to join routes together to connect the two cities get the depicted number of points at the end of the game.  The catch is that any tickets that players keep that are not completed successfully score negatively, and the swing can be quite devastating.  Ticket to Ride is a game everyone knows well and although we don’t play it often it is always enjoyable (perhaps because we don’t play it too frequently).  The familiarity means that everyone always fancies their chances at it though, which tends to make for very competitive games and the group really benefits from the variation that the different maps and versions offer.  On the first table, the game started out in much the same way as all Ticket to Ride games.  Ivory placed trains first, but Mulberry and Green followed soon after.  It wasn’t long before Ivory was drawing more ticket cards (instead of taking carriage cards or placing trains) and Green soon followed with Mulberry taking a little longer.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

As is usual, the colour cards that players wanted, just seemed to refuse to come up and everyone’s individual hand of cards grew even as the board filled with more tickets taken at regular intervals.   In the early stages the trio were fairly well matched.  Green was starting to pull ahead and then for some reason abruptly stopped and his hand of cards grew and grew.  He had said that he was going for it and it would either pay off or he would lose abysmally. Mulberry and Ivory had nearly twice as many points as Green when he finally laid a train:  the nine-carriage route giving him twenty-seven points and propelling him into the lead by more than his previous deficit.  Everyone still had lots of trains left though, so the game was far from over.  Eventually, Mulberry brought the game to a sudden halt when she placed her last three trains, catching the others by surprise.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

With their last turn they scrabbled for the longest route they could manage.  Since Green still had a handful of cards he was able to take a six-carriage route for a healthy fifteen points, however, that meant he had to abandon his twenty-four point ticket as he still needed two, very small routes to complete it.  The group decided to forgo recounting the points for placing trains and decided to assume they had kept on top of the scores during play.  Green was ahead in points for train placement by quite a margin, but Ivory and Mulberry had completed more tickets and Green was crippled by the forty-eight point swing caused by his incomplete ticket.  Mulberry took bonus for the the most completed tickets (by only one) and ended just one point behind Ivory.  With the score at the top so close they decided they had to double check all the scores and after a complete recount, there was a reversal and Mulberry edged Ivory out by one solitary point.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table the story was a little different, with Pink, the “Prophet of Doom” goading Pine offering him advice to give in before he’d even started as he was in for a torrid time playing against Blue and Burgundy.  Pine didn’t see it like that however, and as he likes the game, he really fancied his chances.  Fortune favours the brave, and he was out of the blocks like a greyhound with a fifteen point placement in just his second turn.  From then on, it was fast and furious with players fighting to secure the routes they needed to complete their tickets.  Blue and Pine kept fairly level and began to pull away from Burgundy, but neither of them dared to get complacent as he usually has a master-plan that he’s waiting for the perfect moment to enact.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine drew more ticket cards and Blue followed, keeping pace every step of the way while Burgundy kept drawing carriage cards.  Eventually Blue drew ahead in the “taking tickets” race, but it was one set of tickets too far for her as she drew three moderate to high scoring cards that were all unplayable.  Fearing she’d pushed her luck one step too far, she kept the lowest scoring card (i.e. the one with the fewest negative points) and pondered her options.  Pine took tickets and it was clear he had hit a similar problem though at least two of his were playable, if difficult.  In the end, he took a twenty-one point ticket that needed a little work, giving Blue an interesting choice.  In addition to the unplayable ticket, she had one low-ish scoring ticket left that she only needed one card to complete.  She’d been waiting for that single yellow carriage for a while though and persisting could allow Pine time to complete his new ticket.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

Although she didn’t know the value or difficulty of Pine’s final ticket Blue felt sure it was high scoring and that he would need a few turns to complete it.  With a large set of pink cards and not many trains left, it gave her a chance; by placing a largely arbitrary route she triggered the end of the game.  Burgundy squeaked, although it had looked for all the world like he was trying for the long route, in fact he was really hunting for a locomotive (wild) card or a single orange carriage to complete his route into Narvik (though he came very close to getting nine cards necessary for the long route by accident).  The irony was that Blue had picked up loads of locomotive cards in her hunt for the single yellow, but hadn’t wanted them and had been unable to find yellow cards because Burgundy had them all!  In his penultimate turn, Burgundy had finally drawn his last orange card enabling him to finish his final, long ticket on his very last go.  Pine on the other hand was less fortunate and fell short, taking a swing of forty-two points which more than off-set Blue’s incomplete tickets.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
– Image by boardGOATS

The group recounted the train points and found a few extra points for Blue, but it was still very close and all down to the tickets.  Blue had mostly low-scoring cards; where Pine had one fewer, they were more valuable.  In the end, Blue finished twenty-three points ahead of Pine, but she had managed to complete one extra ticket which had given her the ten point bonus – had it gone to Pine there would have been a twenty point swing and the second group might have had a recount too.  Both Ticket to Ride games finished at much the same time and while the third game was finishing off, the two groups compared notes.  It was then that the first group realised they had not played quite correctly, as there is a rules change in this version that means locomotive cards can only be used as wilds on tunnel and ferry routes, not on ordinary routes.  This explained why Green had managed to succeed at his long route when Burgundy had failed. While playing correctly would have changed the game, there was no accusation of cheating as Ivory and Mulberry who had been playing that game had played by the same rules.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, while the two ends of the table were playing with their train-sets, the trio in the middle were decorating their Christmas Tree.  This game is a cute little card drafting game that originated in Hungary.  The game takes place over three rounds during which Christmas decoration cards are drafted. After each card is chosen, the player puts it anywhere they like on their tree.  After seven cards, the round ends and the trees are evaluated.  Decorations include gingerbread men, glass ornaments in different shapes, wrapped sweets and, of course, festive lights.  The gingerbread men have different markings on their hands and feet and the more that match the adjacent decorations, the more points they score.  Some glass ornaments and all the sweets score points directly; lights only score if both halves match.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

The decorations only score at the end of the game though;  objective cards are evaluated at the end of each round.  At the start of the game each player receives four objective cards and at the start of each round everyone chooses one; these are shuffled and before the round begins.  The trees are therefore evaluated at the end of each round according to these objectives.  and then decorations score at the end.  One of the things about this scoring mechanism is that it’s often not obvious who is in the lead during the game as there are so many points awarded at the end.  This game was no exception, and was ultimately very close as a result.  It is one of those games that benefits from experience, and Black and Purple’s who had both played before took first and second, in that order.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

There was time for something else.  Inevitably, we threatened Pink with Bohnanza (he has possibly the smallest amount of love for the game per copy owned), but it’s lack of festiveness, meant it was a hollow threat.  We still had the “Feature Game” to play anyhow, which was Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey.  This is a mad game by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper set in a world that is a sort of cross between Downton Abbey and the Adams Family.  The artwork is suitably gruesome, though it was very clear from the start who the Countess D’Ungeon was a caricature of!  Played over several short rounds, each player takes the role of one of the various eccentric and unpleasant family members grasping for whatever feels like the best present.  To this end, players begin with a character card and a couple of gift cards, all face down on the table in front of them.  On their turn, the active player may either swap one of their face-down cards with one elsewhere on the table, or turn a card face-up, possibly activating a special action on the gift cards.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

The round ends when all a player’s cards are face up at the start of their turn or a bomb is revealed, at which point everyone scores points if they have collected the gifts wanted by their characters.  With six people playing nobody had a clue what was going on and mayhem reigned.  Ivory and Pine jointly took the first round giving them a point each, but after that, the gloves were off.  Purple took one round and Pine and Ivory took another each, so it was all down to the last round.  Green had spent most of the game trying to furnish Little Eugenia with two bombs, so when Blue realised he had the cards he needed to win the round, she made it her business to try to obstruct his plans.  Needless to say he spent the round getting his cards back.  With Blue and Green playing silly beggars in the corner, everyone else fought it out, but there was nothing everyone else could do to stop Ivory taking the point he needed to win.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

There was still time to play something else, but nobody was really in the mood so, instead, Blue and Ivory drooled over the fabulous pink dinosaurs from Ivory’s new arrival, Dinosaur Island.  Blue had nearly KickStarted the second edition, but had withdrawn when she’d heard Ivory was already committed to the project.  Needless to say, Ivory had brought his copy to show it off at the earliest opportunity, including plastic goats as well as dinosaurs.  And of course it will undoubtedly be a “Feature Game” sometime in the new year.

Dinosaur Island
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Christmas Crackers can make an awful lot of mess.

12th December 2017

With this being the last GOATS Tuesday before Christmas (and the Jockey shutting on Boxing Day which would be the next one), we decided to have an early “Christmas Party” with everyone arriving for supper at the same time and home-made crackers.  Out of habit, most of us ordered pizza from their Tuesday “Pizza Special” menu, though there was also the odd portion of scampi too.  Even though it was still nearly two weeks until Christmas, we were a bit short on numbers thanks to the combination of people leaving early for the holidays and work commitments.  That didn’t stop Pine and Ivory bringing out their favourite topical Christmas Cracker jokes though:  “Why doesn’t Trump ever finish decorating his Christmas tree?  Because people keep shouting “Moron”!”  “Why didn’t Teresa May visit the baby Jesus? Because she couldn’t form a stable government…!”

Pizza at the Horse and Jockey
– Image from horseandjockey.org

Once crackers, jokes and food had been dealt with, Magenta’s little one (who had come a long for the ride and a bit of pizza crust), found himself a friend to play with which gave everyone else the chance to get on with the “Feature Game”, Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey.  This is a short game designed by a local gamer and member of the Didcot Games Club, Rob Harper.  Blue and Pink picked up a pre-release copy at Essen in October and had saved it for a special, festive occasion, and this seemed appropriate.  The game is a fun, micro card game based in a world that is a sort of cross between Downton Abbey and the Adams Family.  The artwork is suitably gruesome, though it was very clear from the start who the Countess D’Ungeon was a caricature of!  Played over several short rounds, each player takes the role of one of the various eccentric and unpleasant family members grasping for whatever feels like the best present.  To this end, players begin with a character card and a couple of gift cards, all face down on the table in front of them.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

On their turn, the active player may either swap one of their face-down cards with one elsewhere on the table, or turn a card face-up, possibly activating a special action on the gift cards. The round ends when all a player’s cards are face up at the start of their turn or a bomb is revealed, at which point everyone scores points if they have collected the gifts wanted by their characters.  A lot of fun was had with everyone amused by the idea the sick combination of a set of electrodes and a puppy…  Before long, Magenta, Blue, Pine and Green had won one round a piece and Magenta’s son’s and his playmate was starting to look bored with the game they were playing, so although the we were just warming up nicely, we reluctantly decided to bring it to an early close when one player had won two rounds.  It was tight, but Green prevented Ivory and Burgundy getting in on the act and took his second round, and with it, the game.  Søn-Magenta had clearly had enough, so Mor-Magenta took him home leaving everyone else with a selection of wintery themed games to choose from.

Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey
– Image by boardGOATS

With five players left, the choice was actually rather limited and we quickly settled on an old favourite, the sled racing game, Snow Tails.  We played with the original edition, where players start by building the track which can either be from one of the suggested examples given in the rulebook, or, a home-designed one which we opted for.  On reflection, designing our own track might not have been all that clever, as we inevitably made it way more complicated than it needed to be.  The parcour began with a Chasm immediately after the start which caused an almighty bottle neck before everyone even got going.  Then there was a sweeping left hander and a short straight section followed by a right hander.  This wouldn’t have been so bad except they were immediately followed by a combination of a Crevasse (that had to be jumped at speed) and a field of saplings (adding a slalom element) just before the finish line.  As a result players had to control their speed very carefully throughout.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

And that is what Snow Tails is all about really: controlling speed.  Players have a deck of number cards from which they draw a hand of five cards.  On their turn, cards are played on one to three of the active piles: the left husky, the right husky or the brake.  The catch is that if multiple cards are played, they must all be the same number, and once a card has been used, it can’t be used again until the player’s individual draw deck has been depleted.  The idea is that the sled’s speed is the sum of the dog cards in play, minus the current value of the brake; the speed dictates the number of spaces the sled moves forward in each turn.  Steering is carried out by adjusting the difference between the speeds of the two dogs which gives rise to “drift”, i.e. sliding movement to the left or right.  Drift occurs as a sled moves forward, with a maximum of one lane drift per forward movement.  An evenly matched pair of dogs goes faster leading to a balanced sled bonus, but for some reason we forgot about this.  It probably didn’t matter anyhow though, because the nature of the course meant that a balanced sled was a real rarity rarity and the close proximity of the obstacles meant it was unlikely that anyone would have been able to make use of the bonus as well.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory and Blue were first out of the blocks and managed to steal a bit of march on everyone else, getting through the Chasm first and causing chaos behind as everyone else got stuck.  With nobody in his way, Ivory took an early lead and Blue gave chase, but bit by bit he continued to edge away.  It wasn’t long before Pine led the charge from the rear and those who had got jammed in the Chasm began to catch up.  This was partly because they had been able to store up a few good cards and plan their attack while they were waiting to get past the obstacle at the beginning, but also because first Blue, and then Ivory, paid the penalty for their quick start and were forced into the barriers.  Coming round the final corner, it was really tight, but Green, Burgundy and Pine were heading for home through the Saplings.  It was then that we realised the importance of positioning:  for those with no dents in their sled, it was possible just to mow through the saplings taking damage as necessary and career across the line.  There is a limit though as players got in his way, Pine stalled, allowing both Blue and Green through the gap, pipping him on the line.  Burgundy crossed the line first however, with Green finishing a close second in what had been a quite chaotic race.

Snow Tails
– Image by boardGOATS

With a shortage of five-player winter-themed games, we decide to go for one of our most popular games6 Nimmt!.  This is probably our most played game, which is strange as, even when we have a break, it always comes back into fashion again.  In the group we’ve discussed the phenomenon many times, and it is definitely a special game.  There are a combination of factors that add to it’s appeal including the time it takes to play, the number of players, the lack of down time, the simplicity etc..  Perhaps the biggest factor though is the illusion of control the game gives, until it all goes horribly wrong of course.  And of course it did this time too.  The first round was quite close with three players picking up almost exactly the same number of “Nimmts”.  It was the second round that was most amusing though as Pine and Ivory seemed to be competing to collect as many as they could, taking it in turns to pick up rows.  Unusually, as he usually has one catastrophic round, Burgundy managed to win both rounds with a clean sheet in the first and just five in the second.  This gave him a clear victory with Blue some way behind, just pipping Green to second place.  The excitement had all been far too much for Ivory and he decided it was home time, having won the unofficial “hat on the longest” competition that only he had been playing.

– Image by boardGOATS

This left everyone else with time for one last festive game, Christmas Tree.  This is an apparently simple card drafting game, which turns out to be surprisingly challenging in practice (not least because shuffling diamond-shaped cards is remarkably difficult!  Each player begins with an empty Christmas tree shaped board and a hand of eight cards.  Simultaneously, everyone chooses one card to keep and passes the rest on.  They then add the card to their tree, decorating it.  Each card features a bauble of some kind, a wrapped sweet or a gingerbread cookie and some additionally have half a light on the edges.  Points are scored at the end of the game for satisfying the gingerbread men’s neighbourhood preferences, matching the half lights to make whole ones, for sweets and baubles.  The largest number of points come from the “objective cards”, however, which give points for ornaments in a particular arrangement.  At the start of the game, each player is given four objective cards and players choose one at the start of each round, which is scored at the end of that round.  As only Blue and Green had played it before (and then without the objectives) it was felt that it was fairest to draw the objective cards at random this time.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

It took a while for everyone to get the hang of the game, and it quickly became apparent that Green’s experience was invaluable as he took an early lead.  Blue, on the other hand, was demonstrating how not benefit from the advantage she had been given and was grubbing about at the back of the pack.  It turned out that everyone had a different strategy and was targetting different objectives, as evidenced by the changing of places in the final scoring.  Green, who was a long way out in front, remained there unchallenged, but all of a sudden, Blue made a march from the back, thanks to her large number of completed festive lights and a couple of well-timed linzer cookies (which allow players to swap decorations positions on their tree).  It was very tight for second, in fact, there were just two points in it, which given that scores ranged from one hundred and forty to over one hundred and eighty was very close and merited a recount of the final round.  The scores stood, however, and Blue just managed to edge in front of Burgundy to take second.

Christmas Tree
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  There are very few festive themed games that play five!