Tag Archives: Codenames

23rd July 2019

It was a quiet, if hot night; Blue and Khaki were the first to arrive closely followed by Pine and Burgundy, and all four settled down to eat and discuss the very British subject of The Weather.  Just as they were finishing eating, Ivory turned up toting his copy of the “Feature Game”, Wingspan.  Then he started something when he ordered a desert, specifically ice cream.  Everyone else, who had struggled to finish their supper and had hitherto been replete watched with envious eyes as Ivory tucked into his two scoops, one each of Baileys and Toblerone.  Only Burgundy held out and it wasn’t long before another food order was placed, including two grown-up orders of a single scoop of raspberry sorbet and one childish order of a scoop each of chocolate orange and Toblerone.

Ice Cream
– Image from horseandjockey.org

While waiting for the second round of deserts to arrive, the group decided to play something, and, given that the Spiel des Jahres awards had just been announced, decided to give L.A.M.A. a go. L.A.M.A. was nominated, but did not win (despite Reiner Knizia’s amazing outfit), however, for our group it was a much better fit than Just One, the winner.  Just One, is a word guessing game in a similar vein to the previous laureate, Codenames, which was extraordinarily unpopular with our Tuesday night group.  Word games are similarly unpopular, so Werewords was never likely to go down well either, making L.A.M.A. our group’s pick, even though we had not hitherto played any of the nominees to form a real opinion.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

As Ivory commented, L.A.M.A. has a reputation of being a bit of an “UNO killer”, that is to say, it is a similar game to UNO, but perceived to be better.  L.A.M.A. is an abbreviation for “Lege alle Minuspunkte ab”, which roughly translates as “get rid of your negative points”, and indeed this is what players do, in a similar way to UNO.  The deck contains coloured cards numbered one to six, and some Llama cards.  Players take it in turns to play a single card, the same number or one higher than the last card played.  Llama cards can be played on sixes, and one’s can be played on Llamas.  If they cannot play (or choose not to), players can draw a card from the deck, or stick with what they have, and not play for the rest of the round.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

When either everyone has passed, or someone has played out their hand, everyone scores points equivalent to the face value of their cards in their hand, and Llama cards score ten.  There is a catch though, in a mechanism faintly reminiscent of No Thanks!, any duplicate cards do not score, thus, a two fives and a six will only score eleven.  Players receive tokens for their score, but if a player checks out with nothing they can return a token to the pool.  Since white tokens are worth one and black worth ten, and players can return either, the advantage can  sometimes be with the player with a higher score.  For example, someone with nine points can only return one white token leaving them with eight, while someone with a single black ten can return everything they have.  The game ends when someone reaches forty.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue started badly, by picking up a massive twenty-four points on the first round.  Burgundy did slightly better, although the size of his total was largely thanks to Pine who repeatedly stepped up the current card value upsetting Burgundy’s plans.  This became something of a running joke, with Pine playing a one and thus preventing Burgundy playing his Llama cards.  Pine and Ivory started well remaining in single digits for several rounds, but in the end it was surprisingly close.  Fairly inevitably though, it was Blue who hit the magic forty first with Burgundy and Ivory just behind with thirty-nine each.

L.A.M.A.
– Image by boardGOATS

Khaki took a very creditable second place thanks to winning one round and ditching ten points as a result.  It was Pine who won the game, however, as the most consistently low scoring player, finishing with eight points fewer than Khaki, a total of only twenty.  With the ice cream desserts and the llama aperitif dealt with, it was time to move on to the main course, the “Feature Game”, Wingspan.  Ivory commented that he’d been really looking forward to this and described it as, “an engine builder like Terraforming Mars, but much prettier”.  While we set up, Pine explained that his curious order of “Yardbird” was not a reference to the game, but the IPA.  It turns out the beer is not named after the the rock group (that featured Eric Clapton among others), but actually Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophonist.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

The players are bird enthusiasts seeking to discover and attract the best birds to their network of wildlife reserves.  The game itself is fairly straight forward: there are two main types of actions, introduce a new bird card, or carry out an an action and activate the associated birds.  In order to introduce a new bird card into their reserve, a player needs entice them by spending food.  Each bird is played in one of the three habitats: woodland, grassland or wetland.  Some birds, like the Common Raven, can be found in any habitat so players can choose where to play them, others birds like a Green Heron are only found in one or two habitats (in this case, wetland), so  can only be placed in those habitats.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

There are three other actions, collect food, lay eggs or acquire more cards.  In each case, players place one of their action cubes (or fluffy little birds in our pimped out copy), in the space to the right of the right most card in the associated habitat.  The more birds there are in a habitat, the better the action.  So, for example, if a player has no woodland birds and decides to take food, they can only take one food die from the bird-box dice tower receiving one food in return.  On the other hand, a player that has four bird cards in their woodland habitat can take  three food if they activate their woodland habitat.  Once the action has been completed, the player activates each bird in that habitat, in turn.  The grassland action, laying eggs, and the wetland action, taking cards work in a similar way.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Eggs can generally be placed on any bird card as long as it has sufficient capacity.  Eggs, aside from looking a lot like Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, are very useful as they are needed when adding cards to habitats—after the first card in a habitat, in addition to food, there is a cost of one or two eggs per bird.  They are also worth points at the end of the game.  Activating the wetland action, allows the player to take a face up card from the three available, or draw blind (similar to Ticket to Ride games).  In both cases, any birds in the habitat are also activated after the action has been taken.  Some birds have a special power on activation, while others give a bonus when they are originally played and some give an advantage when other players do  a particular action.  These special actions include providing extra food, laying extra eggs or acquiring extra food.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Some actions dictate where the food goes, so in some cases, the food is left on the bird card and cannot be used by the player, instead scoring a point at the end of the game.  Similarly, some cards are tucked under other cards, simulating flocking birds, or the prey caught by predators, and these score a point each at the end of the game.  Eggs on cards also score, and there are interim challenges, and the most successful players at these also score.  Finally, each bird is itself worth points, and each player starts with a choice of two bonus cards which provide points if that player is successful in a given category.  The game lasts four rounds with each player getting eight actions in the first round, but only five in the final round.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Aside from the gorgeous artwork, there are a lot of very nice little touches in this game.  For example, although the egg capacities for the birds aren’t correct, they are proportionally right with the American White Pelican only holding one egg, while the Mourning Dove holds five.  Similarly the food requirements and habitats are correct.  Sadly, the cards are all North American birds, but there are plans in the pipeline for European birds and even Australian, African and Asian bird expansions in due course.  At the start of the game each player gets two bonus cards and keeps one of them.  These can reward players with two points for every predator they have, or give points if the player has, say, four or more birds with a large wingspan, but the probability of these is given on the card which is a nice feature too.  So, all in all, it is a very well produced game.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory started very quickly, luring a Barn Owl to his woodland, and it quickly started hunting, with any prey caught being stored on the owl card and worth points later in the game.  He quickly followed this with two cards that allowed him to draw extra bonus cards, and looked to be set up for a strong game.  Next to him, Pine was struggling—the game is not complicated, but it is a little different to anything else we’ve played.  He got the hang of things eventually though, and his Canada Goose looked a very nice card as it allowed him to tuck two cards underneath it (each worth a point at the end of the game) for the cost of one wheat when activated.  Khaki was helping everyone out though, as his Ruby-throated Hummingbird kept everyone supplied with food.

– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy just quietly got on with things, but as he and Khaki had the most eggs in nests on the ground at the end of the first round, they took the end of round bonus points.  Meanwhile, Blue’s Yellow-Billed Cuckoo was giving her useful eggs whenever someone else laid eggs, as long as she remembered to activate it.  With Burgundy and Khaki taking the end of round bonus for the most wetland birds at the end of the second round, it was starting to look ominous.  Ivory had his eye on a bigger prize however.  The end of round bonuses increase in value throughout the game, so he was clearly after the bonus at the end of the third round, which rewarded the player with the most grassland birds.  Burgundy had his eye on that too though, as did Blue and as the number of actions decreased the game became increasingly difficult.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue’s Eastern Bluebird proved very useful as it allowed her to play to birds for one action.  So in the end Burgundy, again took the points, this time tying with Blue, with Ivory just edged out.  As the final round came to a close, it was too late to improve the engines and everyone just had to concentrate maximise their points.  And after that, all that was left was the counting.  The game is a little bit “multi-player solitaire”, so nobody was sure who was going to win, though Burgundy was high on most people’s list.  Indeed, it was very close with just five points separating the podium positions, and only one point between the rest.  In the end, Burgundy on eighty-six tied for second place with Khaki, who had a lot of high value birds and had been determined not to disgrace himself (and definitely didn’t).  Blue just had the edge however, largely thanks playing her Inca Dove which allowed her to lay a lot of eggs in the final round.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Tempt a hot group of gamers with ice cream and most will give in.

Boardgames in the News: Cooperation and the “Alpha Gamer Problem”

Competition is one of the main characteristics people associate with board games, however, in the modern world of Euro games, this is no longer true.  Firstly, one of the primary qualities of Euro games is the lack of “direct interaction”.  This means that although there is competition, it is difficult for players to be “nasty” to each other.  This is an important aspect of modern gaming as it takes away the aggressive element and makes them more inclusive, particularly for families.  These games still have winners and losers though, and while everyone likes winning, nobody likes losing and some people really, really hate it.  This is where “cooperative games” come in:  instead of players competing against each other, everyone works as a team, trying to beat the game.

Pandemic
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

There are now hundreds of cooperative games available, but although the first of these date back to the 1960s, the explosion really happened about ten years ago following the release of Pandemic.  Designed by Matt Leacock, Pandemic is a very accessible game where players are disease-fighting specialists whose mission is to treat disease hot-spots while researching cures for the four plagues before they get out of hand.  The game board features the major global population centres and on their turn, each player can travel between cities, treat infection, discover a cure, or build a research facility. The clever part of the game is the two decks of cards that drive it.  The first of these enables players to travel and treat infection, but also contains Epidemic cards that accelerate and intensify the diseases’ activity. The second deck controls the “normal” spread of the infections, with players drawing a set number of these, that increases when Epidemic cards are drawn.

Pandemic
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Since Pandemic, a large number of cooperative games have been published, including Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Sky, all of which use cards in a similar way to Pandemic to increase the threat.  All of these have been designed by Matt Leacock and have a very similar feel, though a different theme.  There have also been a number of variations on the Pandemic game which retain the original theme, including the well-regarded Pandemic Legacy titles which change the feel a lot.  Other similar games by different designers include Ghost Stories, Freedom: The Underground Railroad and Flash Point: Fire Rescue, each with a different theme, but with changes to the mechanism (Flash Point for example uses dice instead of cards) and varying degrees of difficulty (Ghost stories played with four is supposed to be one of the most challenging games of its type to win).

Forbidden Island
– Image by BGG contributor DLCrie

Not all cooperative games are family friendly and accessible.  Arkham Horror is set in the H.P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulu mythos.  Each player is a resident of or visitor to the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusets during the 1920s and takes the roll of a character ranging from a gangster to a college professor.  The players discover a nefarious cult attempting to awaken a great evil, and, to prevent an invasion from other realms, they must seal off access to Arkham.  To survive, players must equip themselves with all manner of weapons, and spells, while searching for clues to aid them in their mission.  The game has a substantial rule set and the games are epic experiences which take four to five hours to complete (and are therefore not for the faint-hearted).

Arkham Horror
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

While there is plenty of variety available with cooperative games, there are two often cited problems.  Firstly, many players find that cooperative games lack “something”.  In reality, this is largely just a matter of taste, in the same way that some gamers feel that “Euro Games” lack something when compared with highly random dice-heavy games with player elimination.  Perhaps a more fundamental issue is that of the so-called “alpha gamer”. This is where one player effectively becomes the general, and tells everyone else what to do.  This problem arises because most cooperative games are essentially puzzles that can be solved by one player.  Some games designers have tried to fix this issue by adding hidden information, usually in the form of cards, and a rule that players cannot share such knowledge.  Simply instructing players not to share knowledge is much easier said than done, however, as even a slight inflection in the voice or a change of expression can give away a lot of information.

Hanabi
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

In 2013, a very simple, yet clever card game called Hanabi won the Spiel des Jahres.  The idea is that instead of every player looking at the front of their hand of cards and showing the backs to all the other players, hands are held the other way so that each player can’t see their own cards, but can see everyone else’s.  In principle this means players can discuss what a player should do, but a lot of information can be given away accidentally.  For this reason, the best, most intense games of Hanabi are played in near total silence and stony faced.  This is actually extremely hard to do, which is why for many, The Game, a similar cooperative card game nominated for the Spiel des Jares in 2015 has proved to have more longevity.  This is because players can discuss anything they like as long as they never give away specific number information.

Shadows over Camelot
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

One of the early cooperative games was Shadows over Camelot, which is a hand-management and deduction-based board game where players are knights of the Round Table collaborating to overcome quests like the search for the Holy Grail.  In order to get round the “alpha gamer” problem Shadows over Camelot introduced a traitor mechanic.  At the start of the game, players are given a Loyalty Card, one of which says “Traitor”.  The player that draws the Traitor card then tries to sabotage the efforts of the Loyal Company.  Initially the Traitor hides within the Company, so players have to be very careful about what information they disclose as the Traitor could use it against them.  Worse, players have to be very careful about what information they believe as it could be given by the Traitor in an effort to mislead.

Shadows over Camelot
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Initially, the Traitor acts as one of the loyal knights, but as suspicions mount, players can accuse others of being a traitor.  If outed, the Traitor’s actions become more limited, but potentially more devastating.  Stacking the deck in different ways can be used to introduce different levels of doubt.  For example, four players drawing from eight Loyalty Cards including one traitor, are unlikely to to have a traitor, but the possibility is just enough to keep people on their toes; at the other extreme, if there are no excess cards a traitor is guaranteed.  One of the problems with the hidden traitor in Shadows over Camelot though, is that it doesn’t scale well with the number of players: seven knights playing against one traitor are still likely to win, whereas three knights are always going to struggle.

Lord of the Rings
– Image by BGG contributor fubar awol

In Shadows over Camelot, the scaling problem was fixed with the Merlin’s Company expansion, which introduced a possible second traitor.  Expansions also arguably improved one of the most intense, cooperative games, Lord of the Rings.  This twenty year old game follows the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring, with players taking on the roles of the hobbits.  It is also a card driven game, which players lose if the ring-bearer is overcome by Sauron, or win if the Ring is destroyed by throwing it into the volcanic fires of Mount Doom. The Friends & Foes and Battlefields expansions add complexity and variety, while the Sauron expansion introduces a semi-cooperative element with someone actively playing the Dark Lord.

Lord of the Rings
– Image by BGG contributor takras

The semi-cooperative, “one versus many” style of game is not new, indeed it was the core mechanism of the winner of the 1983 Spiel des Jahres Award, Scotland Yard.  A staple of many charity shops, this is still a popular family game that still holds up more than thirty years later.  Although modifying the cooperative nature solves the “alpha gamer” problem, it doesn’t fix the other problem:  if one player is significantly weaker than others, everyone suffers.  This is issue inherent in any team game: the team is only as strong as its weakest link, however, it is a particular problem when the weak player is the Traitor.  This is actually a problem in any game where one player has a pivotal role though; Codenames, for example, can be a truly awful experience if the wrong person gets the job of “Spy Master”.

Scotland Yard
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

Despite the issues associated with cooperative and semi-cooperative games, they continue to be very popular.  In the recent years, The Game and Hanabi have featured strongly in the Spiel des Jahres awards and nominees, while the top two games in the BoardGameGeek ranking, Gloomhaven and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, both feature cooperative play as well.  With epic campaign games like Kingdom: Death Monster and The 7th Continent continuing to build on and develop the mechanism, cooperative games are clearly here to stay, even if they aren’t suitable for every group.

Kingdom Death: Monster
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

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

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

Codenames
– Image from czechgames.com

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

Splendor
– Image from imgur.com by BGG contributor ceephour

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

Terraforming Mars
– Image from imgur.com

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

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

Boardgames in the News: What is Asmodee’s Grand Plan?

Four years ago, Eurazeo bought a small French games company called Asmodee from the investment firm, Montefiore.  Asmodee were a small company hitherto primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble.  With the financial might of their parent company behind them, over the next few years, Asmodee proceeded to gobble up many larger, well-established companies, including Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games and most recently, Lookout Spiele.  Those companies produced some of the best known modern games including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola and Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.  Not content with that, they also acquired the rights to the English language version of the Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and all the related Catan games as well as gobbling up a number of smaller and/or newer companies like Space Cowboys (producers of Splendor and Black Fleet) and Plaid Hat Games (producers of Dead of Winter and Mice and Mystics) and entering into a distribution agreement with many others.  There are now very few games companies of any substance that are not somehow tangled in the Asmodee web.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

The last major purchase was F2Z Entertainment in 2016, and since then it has been relatively quiet.  With the new year comes a new wave of acquisition, however, so at the end of January Asmodee announced that they were in exclusive negotiations with Rebel.  Rebel is a relatively small, Polish company responsible for games like K2 as well as Polish editions of many popular games like 7 Wonders and Codenames.  Perhaps more importantly, Rebel also produces the Polish language versions of many of the Asmodee games and is the largest distributor in Poland.  And Poland is a big country, smaller than France or Germany, but bigger than Italy and the UK,  globally Poland is the thirty-forth largest country by population.  That is a lot of Poles and they do like playing board games in Poland.

K2
– Image used with permission
of boardgamephotos

This announcement was almost immediately followed by the bombshell that Asmodee had acquired all the residual assets from Mayfair and with it, Lookout Spiele. Although this is by far the largest deal in recent months, Asmodee have not been resting on their laurels and there has been a lot going on behind the scenes.  In December last year they announced that Esdevium was to be renamedAsmodee UK” bringing them in line with the “Asmodee North America” and “Asmodee Canada” brands.  At around the same time, Eurazeo announced that French publisher Purple Brain Créations would be joining the Asmodee Group.  Furthermore, they have also been streamlining their distribution network in North America.  Having reduced the number of distributors they deal with to five in 2015, in June last year Asmodee North America announced an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors, effectively creating a monopoly of supply within the USA.  This coupled with their Minimum Advertised Price policy (or MAP) gives them a stranglehold on the US market in a way that would never be allowed in Europe.  Whether they are planning to take that one step further and acquire Alliance themselves still remains to be seen, but that looks like a real possibility.  Finally, they have been pushing in a new direction, developing electronic versions of some of the most popular games through their studio, “Asmodee Digital“.

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

So what is Asmodee‘s Grand Plan?  Where will it all end?  Well, there are still a couple of other large manufacturers out there that are not yet part of Asmodee.  Looking at the companies they have already absorbed there is a clear trend: they typically have one particular feature that Asmodee are interested in.  In the case of Days of Wonder, that was the Ticket to Ride series, with Z-man Games it was Pandemic and Carcassonne, and with Rebel, it was probably their distribution network that caught the eye of the executives at Asmodee.  Going forward, the most obvious targets are probably Rio Grande Games, Czech Games EditionQueen GamesHans im Glük and maybe 2F, or Pegasus Spiele (who have just announced a partnership with Frosted Games).  For example, it would be surprising if Rio Grande Games have not been approached given the popularity of games like Dominion and Race/Roll for the Galaxy.  Similarly, Czech Games Edition are a small company with some very juicy morsels including Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords/Petz, and the hugely successful Spiel des Jahres winner, Codenames.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately they may or may not add some or all of these to the Greater Asmodee Empire, but it is clear that at some point, eventually, there will be nothing left worth taking over and growth of the company will plateau, so what happens then?  And this is the crux of the matter. Some have speculated that the aim is to add Hasbro to Asmodee’s ever growing dominion, but Hasbro has a market value of $11.9 billion—Asmodee are mere minnows in comparison.  On the other hand, the parent company, Eurazeo are worth approximately $5.7 billion, which at least puts them in the same ball park, although even they are small by comparison.  According to the “Vision” page on the Eurazeo website:

The purpose of Eurazeo is to identify, accelerate and enhance the transformation potential of the companies in which it invests, even long after its exit. An active and committed shareholder, Eurazeo assists its holdings in the long term – 5 to 7 years – with control over exit timing. An extensive role enabling it to combine business development and corporate social responsibility.

So, it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?  With this in mind it seems unlikely that acquiring Hasbro is on the agenda, but making Asmodee attractive to Hasbro just might be…

Hasbro
– Image from twitter.com

Boardgames in the News: Ant & Dec’s Trivial Takeaway

There has been a long history of trivia games including, including well known titles like Scene It? and Trivial Pursuit.  There are a number of obvious problems with this sort of game.  Firstly, it’s no fun playing when the “spod” in the corner always wins; this leads to the second problem which arises when one player decides the only way to win is to learn all the answers.  Some games designers use ingenious methods to get round this problem.  For example, the questions in Wits & Wagers have numerical answers that players are very unlikely to know, but can usually make an educated guess at.  For example, “In dollars, how much was each extra paid to run across the beach and scream in the movie Jaws?”  These questions don’t solve the problem in themselves, but in Wits & Wagers it’s not the answers that are really important, as players bet on each other’s suggestions with the pay out going to bets on the answer that most closely matches the truth, crucially, without exceeding it.

Wits & Wagers
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor domcrap

There is another way to stop the family’s “useless-fact sponge” winning every time though, and that is to add a sprinkle of wrong answers.  This was approach accidentally exploited by Paul Lamond Games, maker of Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway: The Board Game.  They mistakenly relocated Stonehenge in Somerset, misplaced the Moon by nearly fifteen thousand miles and killed off Albert Einstein six years early!  Paul Lamond Games have agreed to provide replacement cards for all that want them, however, a better solution might be to cut losses and replace the whole game with something better like Wits & Wagers, Codenames or one of the thousands of superb modern boardgames that are now available.

Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway: The Board Game
– Image from paul-lamond.com

4th October 2016

It was a quiet night, thanks to illness, work and other commitments.  There were still enough of us to split into two small groups, the first of which settled down to play Endeavor.  This is a game we’ve played a couple of times this year and still proves quite popular.  This time, only Green had played it before and Grey and Ivory were unfamiliar with it, so it was necessary to have a complete run-down of the rules.  The game is played over seven rounds, each of which consists of four phases:  Building, Population, Income and Action.  The idea is that players have four status tracks, one each for Industry, Culture, Finance and Politics, which roughly correspond to the four phases of the game and dictate what players are allowed to do at each stage.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Players begin by choosing a building, some of which provide an increase in one (or more) of the four status tracks, some provide actions, while most others do a mixture of both.  Players then move population markers from their general supply to their harbour according to their current culture level.  A strong population is essential as it ultimately limits the number of actions players can take on their turn.  The income phase allows players to move some of their workers from buildings back into their harbour as dictated by their current level on the income track.  These add to the population players have available to do things with, while also making space on the buildings so that these actions are available for re-use.  The first three phases of each round are mostly just preparation and book-keeping; the guts of each round are in the final phase, where players take it in turns to carryout an action of their choice.  There are five basic actions: Taking Payment, Shipping, Occupying, Attacking, and Drawing Cards.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

In order to carryout an action, players must activate an appropriate building by moving a population marker from their harbour to the building.  In the case of shipping, occupying and attacking, the actions are carried out on the central, communal player board.  To ship, after activating an appropriate building, players can move one of the population markers to one of the six shipping tracks and take the token that was on the space.  These tokens are useful as they add to the status tracks, but some also give a free action.  Shipping is also important as it gives players a presence in a region which is necessary for occupying, attacking and drawing cards.  When a player places the last token on a shipping track, The Governor card from the top of the pile in the region is allocated and the region is considered “open”.  This means that players who already have a presence in the region can also occupy the cities within the region. This gives both tokens and victory points, but where a player occupies a city that is connected to another city they already occupy, they get an extra token, which can be very valuable, as well as providing extra points at the end of the game.  This makes position very important, but if someone occupies a city that another player wants, one option is attacking.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

This is carried out in the same way as occupying, but is a separate action and costs an additional population marker.  Occupying a region also adds to a players presence in the region: players can also draw the top card from a region’s stack and add it to their player-board, so long as their total presence in the region is higher than the card number.  Cards are important as they also add to the status tracks as well as provide victory points, however there is a card limit which is enforced when a player passes at the end of the round and any status track points gained with the card are lost when cards are discarded.  Once everyone has completed one action phase players continue taking it turns until everyone passes.  Thus, the final possible action is taking payment which is the simplest action and allows players to move one of their population markers back to the harbour so that they can re-use the building in the same round. In addition to the five basic actions, some of the more expensive buildings provide a choice or even a combination of two of the basic actions.  After seven rounds, points are awarded for cities, for connections between cities, for progress up status tracks, cards, some special buildings, and any left-over population markers.

Endeavor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

It was an inauspicious start: Grey was unhappy with the name, it hurt his language sensibilities, and he was very concerned as to where the “u” had gone.  Green was definitely at an advantage as the only person to have played the game before, but he did his best to guide the others for their first few turns. In truth, there is very little choice to be made in the first round or so, however, what choice there is tends to turn out to be critical by the end of the game.  With so little decision to make, the first round is always over in a flash, though the later rounds take progressively longer as the game goes on.  Ivory and Green both started building Workshops for the extra brick, while Grey went for a Shipyard and started to ship. In the second round, Ivory and Green’s Workshop enabled them to build more valuable buildings and Ivory took a Guildhall to get in on the shipping act, while Green declined the extra brick and went for the Shipyard. This gave him a second green population token and popped him over into gaining three population markers.  As the fog of first game confusion began to clear for Grey, he saw the advantage of the Workshop, so took it at the second opportunity.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

The first few rounds raced past as everyone developed their own board, increased their  populations and took cities and shipping tracks, but some clear strategies were emerging.  Green had a large number of cities in central Europe and a smattering of shipping routes, but was pushing strongly for Africa (to make connections with his European cities and give some great bonus action chits). Ivory was also keeping a strong hold in Europe, but not so much on the shipping tracks, while Grey was concentrating on opening up India and the Far East. Ivory had built up a healthy row of cards, and although he was the only one to resort to slavery so far, it was only the one card.  In the fourth round Grey took the penultimate space on the India shipping track and gifted Green a super-turn, when he used his Dock to ship (thus opening up the region) and then occupied too. The newly occupied town linked to his European city and so he got that extra token too. Grey did get the bonus Governor card in consolation however.  And then, the regions tumbled, next were the Far East and then North America.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

By the fifth round, the first four cards in the central region had all been taken, and a quick count up showed Green had five cities. He waited until the sixth round and, since no-one had attacked him, he took the final card and abolished slavery. Luckily Ivory was not too badly affected by this and avoided the collapsing house of cards such an event can often trigger.  At the start of the final round, Grey spotted that Ivory had a cluster of four cities plus one in Africa: that gave him four connections.  He also noticed that there was one cornerstone city that connected them all. So he bravely marched in, took the losses involved in attack and swiped several points from Ivory in one go.  The final turns were used for mopping up as many points as possible and once everyone had passed, it was on to final scoring.

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

Not unexpectedly given his extra experience with the game, Green scored the most, with victory points from most areas.  Ivory was close behind in what had been a very enjoyable game.  In fact Grey had not only got over the mis-spelled title, but had enjoyed it so much that he went on to try to find a copy for himself.  Alas Endeavor is very out of print so if it can be found, it’s going to cost a pretty penny, which is a shame, as it is a really good game with good replay-ability, thanks to its random token layout.  On the adjacent table, there was much debate as to what to play, but eventually, the group settled on Istanbul, winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres two years ago.  We’ve played it a couple of times, but Pine was completely new to it, though both Blue and Red had played it before.  It 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.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

The problem is, once an action has been completed, the Merchant must move on, however, an Assistant remains to complete the details of the transaction.  Thus, the Merchant can only carryout a transaction if he has the help of an Assistant.  When he runs out of Assistants, the Merchant cannot carryout a transaction and must either visit the Fountain and summon his Assistants or go back to stalls where the Assistants are to collect them.  The central 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”.  For this game, we chose “Long” routes to give us a slightly more interesting game.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Blue began by collecting money and visiting the Wainwright to build up the size of her cart, while Red began collecting the special tiles from the Mosque’s while they were still cheap.  Although Pine felt he understood the rules and the aim of the game perfectly, it took him a few rounds to work out how to go about making things work together effectively.  So it was that Blue just managed to get to the Jewelers before Pine and use a double card to buy two gems.  As Pine had only had the exact money for his own double gem purchase, he was now two Lira short and had to go and acquire more cash.  To add insult to injury, he had just acquired his extra Lira when Red pulled a similar trick and Pine had to go and find yet more cash.  While Blue and Pine were building piles of currency, Red was quietly collecting tiles from the Mosques and a full set gave her two gems.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of of boardgamephotos

Blue and Pine completed their carts and, with her gems from the Jeweler, Blue seemed to have got her nose in front.  That was before Pine, largely unintentionally, got his revenge for the problems Blue had caused him earlier in the game.  Everything Blue tried to do, Pine was there first and obstructed her plans.  In such a tight game, it was just enough to give Red the extra time she needed to get her fifth gem and trigger the end of the game.  Despite a massive forty-two Lira, Pine needed two turns to change them into gems leaving Blue just ahead in second place with four gems.  As Endeavor was still in the closing stages, Red, Blue and Pine investigated the “Feature Game”.  To celebrate our fourth birthday this week, this was to be Crappy Birthday a silly little filler/party game.  This game has a lot in common with games like Apples to Apples and in particular, Dixit.  The idea is that each player has a hand of cards featuring strange potential gifts.  On their turn, it is the active player’s birthday and everyone else passes them a card.  The active player then chooses what they think is the best and worst and returns them to the original owner who keeps them as points.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

After a couple of turns, Endeavor came to an end and the group joined up for a proper game of Crappy Birthday.  The key to playing this sort of game is knowing the other players.  Although we meet regularly, we don’t all know each other all that well, so this was always going to be interesting.  By the end, we’d learned that Red would quite like to bungee-jump; Green thinks turning his car into a caravanette would be fun (well, perhaps not his car); Blue has a pathological hatred of having her photo taken and Pine likes fluffy penguins and had been to the Westmann Islands and played with warm lava…  In the absence of cake (partly due to a mix up) we completed two rounds and Ivory and Green finished in front with three points apiece.  Given how unsuccessful social games often are with our group (most recently Codenames, which was very divisive), this was not expected to be a great success.  However, the cards were such fun and so unusual, that we all really enjoyed it.  Sadly, that means the game has poor replayability as, once the surprise has gone, the game will be much less fun.

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

With that done, Red, Ivory and Grey headed off, leaving Pine, Blue and Green to play something quick.  After a little chit-chat Splendor was the chosen game, with both Pine and Blue having unfinished business after getting soundly beaten twice in quick succession.  In this game, players have just three options on their turn:  collect gem tokens, buy a gem card using gem tokens (and/or cards), or reserve a gem card and receive a gold (wild) token at the same time.  Players can have a maximum of ten tokens, though unlimited cards and the cards act as permanent tokens.  Thus, at its heart Splendor is an engine building game built on a set-collection mechanism.  Players score points when they buy some gem cards and for attracting Nobles which are awarded to the first player collect certain combinations of gem cards; the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points and the player with the most at the end wins.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The game started with both Pine and Blue going for it with all guns blazing.  The set up included three special Noble tiles:  one from the 2015 Brettspiel Adventskalender and two from the promotional tiles set, but all four Nobles included opals.  So, it was just as well that there were lots of opals out at the start of the game.  Blue and and Pine collected as many of them as they could.  Green picked up a few too, but found the competition was quite stiff and went for more rubies and sapphires.  It was Pine who picked up the first of the Nobles, but that galvanised Blue into action and she grabbed the remaining three in quick succession.  She was still a few points short of the finish line, and it was then that Green realised he had misread one of the cards.  Having had a similar lead and lost last time she had played, she wasn’t going to let this one get away, and ruthlessly gathered the remaining points she needed to quickly bring the game to a close.  Blue finished the game with sixteen four points ahead of Pine in second place.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Learning outcome: Some of the best games can be very difficult to get hold of.

Deutscher Spiele Preis – 2016

In 1990 the German magazine “Die Pöppel-Revue” introduced The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize, which is now awarded annually at the International Spieltage, Essen.  Whereas the Spiel des Jahres rewards family games, the Deutscher Spiele Preis is awarded based on votes from votes from the industry’s stores, magazines, professionals and game clubs, so it tends to reflect “gamers games” and is usually more in line with the Kennerspiel des Jahres.  This year the award went to Mombasa with the Spiel des Jahres winner Codenames in second.  Spiel des Jahres nominees Karuba and Imhotep also featured in the top ten as well as this years winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.

Mombasa
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In Mombasa, players acquire company shares with the aim of earning the most money.  The game features a unique, rotating-display hand-mechanism that drives game play. Each round players choose action cards from their hand, then reveal them simultaneously and carry out the actions. These cards are then placed in a discard pile, and the previously played cards recovered for the subsequent round.  The company boards are double-sided, so games vary quite a lot depending on which tracks are revealed and which companies they are asigned to.
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Mombasa
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos