Tag Archives: Colt Express

Essen 2017

It is that time of year again when the gamers’ minds turn to Essen and – The Internationale Spieltage.  To Gamers worldwide, Essen is synonymous with the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world.  The fair runs Thursday to Sunday in mid/late-October every year and is the one of the biggest and most significant of all the boardgame conventions with many new releases and timed to coincide with the end of October.  This year the first day will be this Thursday, 26th October and games, publishers and their wares are all making their way to Germany for four days of fun and games.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag-en.com

Last year several of the group went, and they came back with a lot of expansions for well-loved games like Istanbul, Colt Express, and Orléans and picked up some new games like Key to the City – London, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails and Cottage Garden.  This year, new games include Queendomino, Indian Summer, Altiplano and Keyper, with expansions to old favourites like Isle of Skye, Imhotep, Ticket to Ride, Terraforming Mars and Splendor as well.  Once again, several locals are going and they are sure to bring back some interesting toys to play with over the coming months.

Keyper
– Image used with permission of designer Richard Breese

Essen 2016

It is that time of year when, the leaves fall from the trees and gamers visit Germany.  No, Oktoberfest isn’t the draw (that happens in September anyhow), this is an altogether different annual German “festival” – The Internationale Spieltage, which is held in Essen.  To Gamers worldwide, Essen is synonymous with the largest games fair in Europe and, arguably, the world.  The fair runs Thursday to Sunday in mid-October 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.

Essen
– Image from merz-verlag.com

Last year there was a bit of a paucity of new games and it seemed to be all about expansions.  This year, while there are still plenty of expansions for well-loved games like Istanbul, Colt Express, Orléans and Ca$h ‘n Guns etc., there are also a lot of new games based on old favourites.  For example, there is Key to the City – London (which has a lot of elements of one of our favourite games, Keyflower), Jórvík (an update and re-theme of Die Speicherstadt), X Nimmt! (a variant on the popular but chaotic 6 Nimmt!), and the latest incarnation of the Ticket to Ride series, Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails.  There will be plenty of other interesting original games too though, including The Oracle of DelphiA Feast for Odin, Cottage Garden and The Colonists.  Several members of the group are going this year, and they’ll no doubt bring back lots of exciting new toys to share with everyone.

Essen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Gonzaga

23rd August 2016

A little unsure as to who was coming, we decided to start with the “Feature Game”, which was the filler, Abluxxen (also known as Linko!).  This is a “get rid of all your cards” type of game, and although it is initially a little confusing to understand, it mostly became clear as we played.  On their turn, players play any number of cards as long as they are all the same. The cards are then sequentially compared with the last cards played by all the other players:  if the number of cards played is the same, and the face value of the cards played is higher, then the other player’s cards are “snatched”.  They can either be “snatched” by the active player (the “snatcher”) who takes them into their hand, or alternatively the “snatchee” has to do something with them.  The “snatchee” can either choose to take them back into their hand or discard them.  If they decide to discard, then they must replace the cards with the same number from the face up display in the centre or drawn blind from the draw deck.

Abluxxen
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, the idea is that players are trying to get rid of cards and force other players to pick cards up, however, picking up cards an also be a good thing as it can be an opportunity to improve the cards in hand.  Better, having a lot of identical cards in hand means that when they are played they go on top of any cards previously played making it more difficult for anyone to “snatch” them or force them to be picked up.  The game ends when either one player runs out of cards or the draw deck and central pool has been depleted.  Just to add to the the confusion, however, the winner is then the player who has played the most cards, but any cards left in hand give a penalty of minus one.

Abluxxen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Although it was a simple game and everyone knew what they had to do, at first nobody really understood what they had to do to win.  Gradually people began to work it out though, starting with Burgundy who had watched a video of the game online, then Ivory who was new to the group, but had played plenty of games before.  Pine and Blue eventually joined the “in the know” club, but Red continued to struggle.  Every time it was her turn, Red said, “Sorry, I know I keep asking, but if I play two sevens what will happen?”  Despite this apparent lack of understanding, Red was the first to check-out and with a huge pile of cards too.  This was particularly amusing as Red had just been explaining to Ivory that he shouldn’t believe Burgundy and Blue when they claim to be doing badly or have no idea what they are doing as they usually go on to win.  Inevitably then, although most people were only one or two turns away from finishing, Red was miles ahead much to Burgundy’s chagrin as he needed just one more turn and was left with six cards in hand compared with the seven in his pile.  Blue who had just played seven “fives” and had only a couple of cards in-hand was second, just ahead of Ivory and Pine.

Abluxxen
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Black and Purple had walked in just as Abluxxen started, so amused themselves reading game rules and trying to work out what everyone else was doing.  Abluxxen had taken a little longer than expected so with everyone present and a group of seven, we decided to split into two.  Red was keen to play Niagara, a really unusual game with a moving river.  It won the Spiel des Jahres in 2005 and still holds up as a good family game more than ten years on.  The group has played it before, but in summary, players have two boats that they move up and down the river, trying to collect gems and return them home, to the top of the river.  There are a couple of catches.  The first is that each player has a set of Paddle Cards and must play each one once before they can play any of them again.  These Paddle Cards dictate how far they can move on the river, but can also affect how much the river will move.  Paddle Cards are selected simultaneously at the start of the round, so there is an element of programming involved, though not as much as in games like Colt Express or Walk the Plank!, but it does mean there is an element of anticipation.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Marsh

The second “catch” is the river.  The river flows after everyone has moved their boats and the rate is dependent on the lowest Paddle Card played in the round and the weather.  Each player has a weather Paddle Card, which they use to speed up or slow the river down, however, as this has to be played instead of moving boats, this can be a trap for the unwary.  In the worst case this can lead to the loss of a boat and its contents with a penalty to get the boat back.  The game ends when one player fulfills one of three criteria:  four gems of the same colour, one gem of each of the five colours or any seven gems.  Gems are limited, and this leads to the third “catch”, which is that once a player has picked up a gem and has it safely in their boat, another player can steal it so long as they are paddling up stream and land on the same river segment.  So a nice little game with a nasty edge.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor erfalucho

Red was joined by Pine, Ivory and Burgundy in what was to be a very close game.  With four players, each boat should only hold one gem at a time, but a minor rules malfunction meant that everyone played with the double boats from the Spirits of Niagara expansion.  Red and Burgundy took full advantage of this collecting the difficult blue and pink gems first and in one trip.  It quickly became clear that five unique gems was going to be difficult so everyone went for the slightly easier seven random gems.  Pine was the only “proper adventurer” exploring the limits of the river.  Misinformed by Burgundy with respect to the effects of the weather, Pine become intimately acquainted with the waterfall, turning one of his boats to matchwood, but he was the only one to experience the long soggy drop.  Otherwise, the weather was fairly muted and everyone was fairly close to getting a full set of gems when Red, kicking on from her successful start got her nose over the line first, finishing with a total of eight gems.

Niagara
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor William Hunt

With Niagara done, the group moved onto Splendor.  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 by boardGOATS

Despite being a very simple game, it is one we still enjoy as a relaxing little filler.  Indeed, it got an outing last time when Blue succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when Burgundy came steaming through from nowhere to win.  It could have been this, or perhaps it was previous alleged trouncings that inspired Blue and Purple to let out an emphatic war cry from the neighbouring table exhorting everyone to stop Burgundy at all costs.  So, Burgundy did lots of sighing as everyone rallied to the clarion call and went out of their way to bring him down.  Pine had been one of the victims last time and, understanding his likely fate commented that he wished he could record all of Burgundy’s deep sighs and general moaning and then play it back to him when he won.

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

The tactics appeared to be working, however, as about half way through, Pine had eight points as Burgundy took his first.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy took the first Noble too, but he was still some way behind and nobody was terribly concerned.  Meanwhile, Ivory was quietly building his engine taking lots of freebees, looking like the new threat.  Red was enjoying herself hoarding rubies just to annoy Burgundy even though she was well aware that it wasn’t actually doing her any favours.  Then suddenly, Burgundy took his second Noble and the writing was on the wall:  everyone knew they were doomed.  It wasn’t long before Burgundy took his third Noble and nobody had an answer as he repeated the trick he’d pulled off so successfully last time winning from the back of the pack.

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

Meanwhile, on the next table Black, Blue and Purple were engaged in a slightly protracted game of Castles of Burgundy.  This is a game we’ve not played before with the group, though Blue had played it a few times as a two player game and Black had played it quite a bit online.  It is one of those games with fairly simple mechanics, but a lot of complexity in the game play.  The idea is that each player has two dice which they roll at the start of the round.  On their turn they then spend the two dice, trading them for two separate actions.  Players can take a building from the pool on the central player board that matches the number on their die, for example, if a player rolled a six, they can take any of the buildings in the “six” poll and place it in their own supply.  Their supply is limited in size and there must be space for them to be able to do this.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Alternatively, the player could take a building form their supply and place it on their personal player board on a space that matches both the number of the die and the colour of the building.  Both of these actions are quite restrictive, so players can instead choose to collect two worker tiles and add them to their store.  These worker tiles are the oil that greases the wheels a little, since they allow players to alter one of their dice by one for each tile used (e.g. spending two worker tiles will allow a player to change a five to a three or a one).  The last action is selling goods.  Players can acquire goods tiles during the game, but can only store three different types.  each of the six types correspond to a different number and, on their turn, as an action players can sell all their goods that correspond to the die (modified by workers if they choose).  In return they get a silverling and some points.  Silverlings are a form of currency and can be used to buy one extra building per round.  These are taken from a special pool, though there is nothing particularly special about the buildings themselves except that they are harder to obtain and therefore are generally only taken by players that really want them.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor verminose

Points is what the game is all about, and being a game designed by Stephan Feld, there are lots of different ways to get them.  Although the actions within the game are simple, how points are achieved is where the complexity of the game really lies.  Each building placed on their board gives the active player a bonus.  Sometimes it is a bonus action, sometimes it is bonus points and sometimes it is a strategic advantage; it is the player that makes the most of these bonuses that will win the game.  Players then also score points for placing buildings to complete regions on their own board.  The larger the region, the more points they get, however, there are also bonus points for completing regions early.  Extra points are also available to the first players place the maximum number of each type of building in their province.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor 3EBC

Black, by far the most experienced, began by investing in the special buildings that give one off strategic bonuses (e.g. an the opportunity to place an extra tile or take another from the central board).  Blue began without a strategy and, as is her wont played very tactically, without a real strategy and see what unfolded.  Purple, on the other hand, went for animals early.  These give points, but in an unusual way:  every time an animal tile is added to an area, all the other animals of the same type score again.  Blue picked up four pigs in the first couple of rounds, then added two, then three then another four more, and before long she was following Purple down the animal route.  Their strategies were very different, however, with Purple taking anything she could get while Blue was much more targeted.  So, as Blue went heavily into pigs, she was able to keep re-triggering their scoring building a tidy number of points.  Purple could have made up for with the yellow knowledge tile that rewards players with four points at the end of the game for each different sort of animal they have, but Blue had her eye on it too and got there first.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

While Blue and Purple were engaged in a agricultural battle Black was able to continue with his plan pretty much unchallenged.  So he moved into shipping and completed lots of areas picking up the corresponding bonuses.  Purple took the bonus for finishing the farming tiles first and picked up points for finishing several others too including mining – quite an achievement since she was the last to get a mine at all.  It was the compound scoring for the animals that clinched it though coupled with the knowledge tile that enabled Blue to place her green farming tiles more flexibly and she ran out the winner with one hundred and eighty-five points, nearly twenty ahead of Black in second place.

Castles of Burgundy
– Image by BGG contributor Korosu_Itai

Ivory headed off, and Castles of Burgundy was still well under way, which gave Red an opportunity to suggest one of her favourite games, Bohnanza.  The original bean-trading game, this is a staple family game and is still very popular with the group as it keeps everyone involved throughout and is usually very popular as a “gateway” game.  Last time he’d played it, Pine had really struggled, which both surprised the rest of the group and caused us a certain amount of consternation as it should have been a game Pine would have enjoyed.  It seemed he couldn’t remember the disaster last time though and he was happy to try again.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

The game is very simple, but players have to keep their eye on what is going on around them.  Players start with a hand of cards and are not allowed to change the order – a simple mechanic that is the critical part of the game.  In front of each player are two “Bean Fields” and on their turn, players must plant the first card in their hand and may plant the second.  Thus, the key to the game is managing the order of cards in their hand, as they cannot be rearranged and must be “planted” in the order they arrive.  However, it is possible to remove unwanted cards by trading them away.  Once the active player has planted the card(s) from their hand, then they turn over the top two cards from the draw deck:  these must be planted by the end of the turn, though not necessarily in one of the active player’s fields if they can be traded.  Once all these cards have been planted, the active player can then offer to trade any unwanted cards in their hand before their turn ends with them replenishing their hand from the draw deck.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

There are lots of different strategies players use:  the cards have different values which reflect their rarity so some go for high value rare cards and others for more common cards that are easy to get.  The best players are usually the most flexible and those that fit in best with what other players around are trying to do.  Another aspect players need to keep an eye on is harvesting.  Each field can only contain one type of bean and when they are harvested some of the cards are kept as profit.  In this way, the rare cards (which are also the most profitable) are gradually depleted from the deck.  So towards the end of the game, they become increasingly difficult to find.  Worse, sometimes there might only be one card left and woe-betide the player that gets stuck with it in a field as there is a nasty little rule that says players can only harvest a field with one bean card if all their fields have only one bean card.

Bohnanza
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr

This time, Pine began well offering lots of generous donations which earned him lots of good will as well as getting him off to a flying start.  In contrast, Burgundy was repeatedly forced to plough up fields before promptly picking up the beans he had just disposed of.  The first trip through the deck always seems to take ages, but as usual, the second time through was much quicker.  With three players, everyone got a couple of turns in the final, third pass and everyone was looking nervously at each others’ piles of “coins”; it looked very close.  In fact, there was only one point in it as Red finished just ahead of Pine who finished with a very creditable twenty-seven.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

With Castles of Burgundy finally over, Blue was keen to play something quick and light to finish the evening and, knowing how much Purple likes it, suggested Om Nom Nom.  This is a really sweet little game with elements of double-think.  The idea is that there are three food chains each with three tiers, a primary predator, a secondary predator and pray.  Each player has a hand of cards representing the top two predator tiers and dice are rolled to represent the bottom two tiers.  Once the dice have been rolled and assigned to their spaces on the board, everyone simultaneously chooses a card and the food chains are resolved starting from the top.  Any predator with no prey (or where there is insufficient for all the animals played) goes hungry and is discarded.  Otherwise, prey is divided equally amongst its predators leaving any left-overs for later.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by BGG contributor jancis

A bit like 6 Nimmt!, it is all about synchronising with everyone else, or rather in this case, getting out of synch with everyone else.  This is because everyone has the same set of cards, so if every player except one plays the same cards, all the players who played the same cards will likely cancel each other out and get no reward.  On the other hand, irrespective of whether they get any reward for playing something different, the very fact they did not play the same card means they have it to play later when there is no competition.  This worked particularly well for Blue in the first round, when she managed to pick up lots of carrots and cheese uncontested.  Since prey at the bottom of the food chain are worth two point, this netted her a massive seventeen points.  In contrast, the second round was very low scoring with lots of animals going hungry.  Blue was less effective this time, but still won the round so going into the final round the game was hers to lose, and she tried her best.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine struggled throughout and Red couldn’t get to grips with the double think aspect so was curious as to whether random draw would work better  Since she won the final round it is possible that it did.  Meanwhile Blue was doing her best to throw the game, demonstrating that while it was important to be out of synch with everyone else, it was important to be out of synch in the right way.  First her rabbit got eaten, then her cat went hungry, but somehow she managed to scrape together enough points to ensure she ran out the winner.

Om Nom Nom
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  You don’t have to know what you are doing to win.

26th July 2016

To celebrate Codenames winning the Spiel des Jahres Award, this week it was our “Feature Game”.   Although the game seems to be very, very popular, it definitely has the “Marmite Factor” amongst our group.  It also really needs a group of a reasonable size.  Since it is relatively quick, even the most reluctant agreed to give it a go, especially as Cerise had made it for the first time in ages and it was a game she had really enjoyed last time we played it.  It was also Turquoise’s first visit, so a team game seemed a good way of starting.  The idea of the game is that there are two rival teams of Spies, each with a leader or Spymaster.  The Spies are trying to locate their Agents, but these are only known by their Codenames, and only the Spymasters have the key to who is on which team.  The Codenames are laid out on the table in a five by five array where everyone can see them together with some innocent bystanders and an Assassin.  The Spymasters then take it in turns to give clues to their team so that the Spies can identify their own team’s Agents by pointing at them.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

Clues are of the form “word; number”, where “word” is a clue that connects several cards and “Number” is the number of connected cards.  For example, the clue “bird; three” might connect “sparrow”, “beak” and “Naomi Campbell”.  The team then discuss the clue and point to code cards, one at a time.  If they get it wrong, their turn ends straight away, so ideally they should start with the answers they think are most obvious.  If the Codename corresponds to one of their agents, then the team can guess again, and keep trying until they have exhausted their theoretical maximum number cards that match the clue (three in the example).  Importantly, the only measure of “correct” is whether the Codename is one of the Agents, the agent chosen does not actually have to match the current clue.  So, a team who can’t make sense of a clue or identify all the Codenames may decide point to a Codename that matches a clue given earlier in the game.  For this reason, when a team get all their theoretical maximum number of Codenames for that turn right, they also get one extra chance.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

So, the trick is for the leader to come up with clues that cover multiple correct answers so that the rest of the team can identify the complete set before the opposition identify all theirs. Unfortunately, we had a particularly unconnected set of words and two Spymasters, Blue and Burgundy, who were particularly useless at this sort of thing.  Consequently there were lots of clues like “continent; one”, and when Blue got adventurous and went for “music; two” she totally confused her team and was perilously close to a hint that could lead to the Assassin (Codename “Snowman”) and bring the game to an abrupt end.  “Zooloretto; two” also fell on stony ground since nobody on Blue’s team had actually played it (where everyone in Burgundy’s team had).  The game remained finely balanced as Blue continued to try to give slightly more adventurous clues which her team didn’t always get, while Burgundy played safe with smaller clues that his team understood.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

It all came to a head when, with only two Agents left to find, Burgundy decided to be adventurous and gave the clue “film; two”.  His team quickly got one of them, “Alien”, but the second was more tricky.  Green thought it was probably “forest” (as in “The Forest Moon of Endor”), but could also be several other things.  Cerise, on the opposite team leant a hand and suggested that it could be “wind” as in “Gone with the…”  or maybe “snowman”.  Meanwhile, Burgundy remained stony-faced, in what were very trying circumstances.  Eventually the team ignored Cerise (who had managed to suggest both the correct answer and the Assassin), which gave Blue and her team one last chance.  With only one Agent left to guess, there was only a short pause before they finished the game.  There was a big sigh of relief all round as everyone was put out of their misery, particularly Blue and Burgundy who had found the whole clue-giving experience very stressful indeed.  Unquestionably, with the right crowd Codenames could be great fun, but sadly, we just aren’t it, so it is unlikely to get another outing in the near future – definitely not our group’s Spiel des Jahres this year.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

With that over, we decided to split into two groups.  Black and Purple were keen to give Imhotep a try (one of the other Spiel des Jahres Award nominees), as they had wanted to play it at the UK Games Expo, but it had been constantly booked out of the games library.  Burgundy had played it (also at Expo, with Blue and Pink), had enjoyed it and was happy to give it another go, so Green made up a group of four.  As well as being the key protagonist in the film, “The Mummy”, Imhotep was also a priest and a great architect.  So in this game, players take the role of builders in Egypt who are trying to emulate Imhotep.  The premise of the game is very simple.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions:  procure new stones; load stones on a boat; sail a boat to a monument; or play an action card.  Players can only store a maximum of five stones and when they procure stones they can collect a maximum of three.  Stones are loaded onto ships one at a time, but which of the five possible destinations the boats end up at and the order they are unloaded in is vital, so timing and planning is everything.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Admittedly the lovely big wooden blocks make this game feel like a “junior” board game, but Imhotep is anything but.  It is one of those games that is easy to learn but difficult to master. Although players have a range of options, trying to decide which one is best depends on what has already transpired, what opponents do and how the game will develop.  What makes it particularly tricky is that the best plans in the world can be crushed by opponents with one small action: when they take a boat to the “wrong place”.  It turns out the cubes are large for a good reason:  stacking cubes is a key part of the game and anything smaller would make a very wobbly obelisk.  There are four ships and five building locations, so one doesn’t get visited and the round ends when all four boats have sailed.  There are six rounds in total with points scored in different ways for the different buildings; the player with the most points at the end is declared the best builder in Egypt.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Once everything was set up, the game got under way, but then almost stalled. Nobody had any idea what should be a good opening gambit.  Placing a cube on a ship was the easy choice, but which ship and in which position?  After some head scratching, everyone began placing cubes on boats, making plans where wanted the ships should go, waiting for them to be full, when suddenly, Purple jumped the gun and sent the first boat on its way.  She chose a boat with one cube of each of her competitors and sent it build an Obelisk, catching everyone by surprise.  It wasn’t a particularly bad place to go, but the obelisk doesn’t score until the end and since the highest scores are for the tallest towers, it might not actually be the most efficient use of a cube, especially so early in the game.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The rest of the first round continued to be a lesson in frustration as each of the other boats ended up somewhere other than where players had planned. The next boat went to the Burial Chambers (another scoring at the end of the game), the third to the Wall (scored at the end of the round, but only one point per cube) and the last went to the Market to get cards. As Green was first on the boat he had the first choice of the cards available and based on that first boat he chose the card that gave him an extra point for every 3 cubes in the Obelisk (any three cubes, not just his own).  Now no-one other than Green wanted a boat to go to the Obelisk.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The second round began a little more cautiously.  Everyone had a better idea of how the round would go and began placing their cubes in particular positions on the ships.  The game continued to frustrate everyone as the ships just wouldn’t go where players wanted them to go.  This is frustration is similar to that in Zooloretto where players place animals on trucks, but have to wait until the next turn to collect them, if someone else hasn’t got there first, of course.  In Imhotep, it was usually pretty obvious where players wanted the boat to go, so someone else almost always got there first to send it somewhere else!

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

The unusual scoring of the Pyramid (not steadily increasing or decreasing points) meant that everyone tried to position themselves carefully for that optimum high scoring space, but no-one ever managed to get the boat set up quite how they wanted.  As a result, again no boat went to the pyramid.  The obelisks grew, and the pattern of the Burial Chamber was going in Black and Burgundy’s favour and the Wall scored a few more points, mostly for Purple. The Wall was beginning to show its strength as a cube placed there can score round after round until it is covered – potentially scoring well.  The market cards were dolled out, with Burgundy and Black both taking a blue extra action cards for later use. Green wasn’t sure what to take and ended up with a purple end game scoring card which would only come into it’s own if he could collect a few more.  In the third round the pyramid finally got started, in Black’s favour. The game continued in much the same way, individual plans were more and more obvious and as a result became harder and harder to fulfil.  The trouble was, in taking an action to scupper someone else it often helped a different player or upset their own plans.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

By the end of the game nobody was sure who the winner was going to be.   Before adding all the end-game scores, Burgundy was ahead of Black and Purple, with Green trailing behind.  Everyone had managed a couple of areas in the Burial Chamber, but despite best efforts to scupper him, Burgundy still had the largest area.  The Obelisks had become a fraught battle field at the end.  Black had thrown down the gauntlet to take a boat there which only had two of his cubes and pushed him into the lead, but in the penultimate round Green had sailed a sneaky little single cube boat which made his tower equal.  By making sure that he placed a cube in any boat that Black had used, Green then ensuring that he would at least share the Obelisk spoils. The presence of a single cube boat in that last round, was interesting, but no-one wanted to use it as it was guaranteed that the cube would get taken to the least useful dock, so in the end the Obelisk scores for first and second place were shared between Black and Green with Purple and Burgundy sharing the scores for third and fourth place.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

With Black now several points ahead, Burgundy and Green were vying for second with only the the green and purple end-game scoring cards left, though only Black and Green had any.  Black scored points for every three cubes in the burial chamber, which extended his lead and now looked unassailable.  Green got his Obelisk cubes score, which proved to be the same as Black took for the burial chamber, but with three purple cards giving him another six points he leap-frogged over Black to win by one point.  It was an incredibly close game which suggests that where cubes go may not matter as much as it feels like it should.  On one hand, this seems like a good thing as it relieves the pressure of all those boats going to the “wrong place”, but on the other hand it may suggest the game is a little too balanced making strategy play is less important, which would be a great shame.  Everyone really enjoyed it, however, and would definitely play it again especially as it plays quickly and the alternative tile options look as though they would add variety and new challenges to the game keeping it fresh.  For our group, from the nominations list, this would definitely have been our choice of Spiel des Jahres.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, everyone else was engaged in a brutal game of Colt Express, the worthy winner of last year’s Spiel des Jahres.  This is a programming game, where players take it in turns to choose the cards to they will play, but only action them after everyone has chosen.  Since everyone then takes it in turns to carry out their actions, the game is full of unforeseen consequences.  The game has a Western theme and is played on a fabulous three-dimensional train.  The idea is that each player is a bandit attacking the train trying to move about to pick up cash and jewels while avoiding the Marshall and shooting each other.  Although we’ve played this a few times, we had a couple of people who hadn’t played it before so we had a quick run-down of the rules first.  Each player starts with the same deck of action cards and six bullet cards.  A round card dictates how many cards will be played and how (face up or down; in pairs or singly) and players each shuffle their action deck and draw six cards.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Players then take it in turns to play the action cards.  At the beginning of a round everyone can see where everyone else is and it is easy to choose which card to play and predict its outcome.  Before long, however, things begin to become unpredictable and by the time players have to choose a second card it is highly likely that plans will have gone awry, though of course, nobody know this yet.  Once the cards have all been played, the pile of cards is turned over and the cards are actioned in the order that they were played.  It is only at this point that people realise the mistakes they’ve unwittingly made, shooting nobody or the wrong person, trying to pick up jewels that aren’t there or finding they’ve got nowhere to go because the Marshal is in the way and has screwed up their plans.  As the game progresses, things get worse too since shooting someone involves passing them a bullet card.  This is added to their action deck, but is a dead card and gives no possible actions.  Multiple bullet cards means the chance of drawing them increases making the action cards drawn all the more precious and adding pressure to make the maximum use of them.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Colt Express is a light, fun game and inevitably, someone gets picked on.  This time Blue was the victim (playing the character Django).  Magenta (playing the innocent looking Belle) started using Blue for target practice, but Cerise (Doc) was very quick to join in the fun.  Blue did her best to escape and briefly managed to grab the $1,000 strongbox (gold bar in our version of the game) before Magenta biffed her soundly on the nose and nabbed it.  Meanwhile, Cerise and Turquoise were doing an excellent job of gathering up the loot and robbing the passengers blind, before they decided to try to empty their revolvers.  Obviously, this was mostly at Blue’s expense and with so many bullet cards she struggled to do anything, but that didn’t put people off of course.  Before long even the Marshall was getting in on the act and, much to her disgust, Blue finished the game with more bullets than action cards and no money or gems at all.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

For everyone else, however, the game was quite close.  Magenta had managed to hang onto the gold bar (aka strongbox) and one gem, but it wasn’t enough to compete with Turquoise and Cerise.  Turquoise had picked up a massive five money purses while Cerise added the Sharp Shooter bonus to her one gem and single purse.  Much to our surprise, both totalled $1,850 which meant we had to check the rules for a tie-breaker.  It turned out this was the number of bullets received, which meant that even though she was a long way from competing, Blue had an influence on the result.  As well as being a bullet-magnet, Blue had just about managed to fire a couple of shots in return.  Cerise had been one of the main attackers, so she had caught a few of Blue’s bullets as well as a couple of Magenta’s.  Since Turquoise had rarely fired at anyone, she had picked up just two bullets and with it, her second win of the evening, with Cerise getting her comeuppance.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor lacxox

With it nearing “pumpkin time” for Magenta and Turquoise, there was just time for one last quick game and, almost inevitably, that was 6 Nimmt!.  How this game is still interesting for our group, is a bit of a mystery.  It is short, everyone is always happy to play it and, since it has such a small footprint, it gets brought every week which means it is there when the occasion is right, the mystery though is why people haven’t got bored when other games have long since fallen off the radar.  This time Purple started badly picking up twenty Nimmts in the first round while Turquoise began with a clean sheet.  Burgundy started well with just two Nimmts, but since he always has one good round and one bad, everyone was just waiting for him to start collecting cards in the second round.  Magenta and Blue both had consistently low scores, but they weren’t low enough, and while Purple also made a virtue of consistency, that’s not so good when the scores are both high.  Sadly, Turquoise was forced to pick up a couple of high-scoring of cards while Burgundy, very unusually managed to string two good rounds together.  With a clear round for his second, Burgundy took the game with a total of just two Nimmts, beating Turquoise into second place.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

With Cerise, Magenta and Turquoise heading off, that left a short hour for something else.  Black was keen to play Isle of Skye, the winner of this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres, but Green somehow hadn’t played it and we debated whether it would overrun.  Before long we’d prevaricated enough to definitely rule it out due to lack of time and we started hunting round for something else.  In the end we settled on The Game, a nice little cooperative card game that was nominated for last year’s Spiel des Jahres.  We played this quite a bit for a while, but somehow it has fallen out of favour a little of late, but for no very good reason.  The rules are simple: on their turn, the active player lays a minimum of two cards on any of the four piles following the appropriate trend – two piles must always increase, two decrease; the exception to this is if you can play a card where the interval is exactly ten in the wrong direction (known as “The Backwards Rule”).  Players can talk about anything so long as there is no specific number information given and the aim is to cooperatively get rid of all ninety-eight cards by playing them on to the four piles.

The Game
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The Game started badly and then it got worse.  Before long we were wondering whether we were even going to get through the deck.  Our excuse was that the game is harder with five, but that may or may not actually be the case.  Eventually, we finally managed to exhaust the draw deck, leaving just the cards in hand, but it was inevitable that we weren’t going to be able to place every card as several players had lots of very low cards in a run.  In the end we finished with eight unplayable cards.  We felt we might have been able to place a couple more with a bit more planning, discussion and thought at the end, but everyone was tired and it was home time, so our collective competitive streak had deserted us.  Maybe it will come back for next time…

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Prize-winning games can be a little bit hit and miss and depend strongly on the group too.

8th March 2016

While Burgundy finished his ham, egg ‘n’ chips, the rest of us continued our political discussions from two weeks ago.  This time we discussed the length and timing of the school day, the inevitability of double-parent working households, the cost of childcare and whether or not parents should be paid to stay at home and look after their little ones.  We were expecting Black and Purple, but eventually, someone suggested playing a quick game, to which Blue commented that you could guarantee that they would arrive just as we finished setting up.  A brief debate about what to play followed before we settled on one of our old favourites, Walk the Plank!, a simple pirate themed “programming” game where players try to push each other along a plank and off the ship.

Walk thePlank!
– Image by boardGOATS

Since everyone had played Colt Express fairly recently, the rules were quick to reprise:  everyone simultaneously chooses three cards and the order in which they are going to play them, placing them face-down; starting with the first player, players then take it in turns to play one card until everyone has played all three.  With lots of aggressive options the game is always quick and fun, and the last pirate standing is the winner.  We had just finished the summary when Black and Purple arrived, but since it is only a short game we carried on.  Blue started the game by immediately shortening the plank and before long there was no plank left (a situation we allow through a “house rule”).  When Green Green played a “Drag to Sea) with only one pirate left which was perched precariously on the edge of the boat, it was inevitable that he would take Blue’s only pirate with him for company, leaving everyone else with two pirates each.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

It didn’t last, however, and before long Magenta’s last pirate received the Big E from Burgundy and joined the others watching the goings on from Davy Jones’ Locker.  With all the carnage in the first round (eleven pirates down in just fifteen cards), there were just two players left with two pirates each all on the ship.  Although the rules say the last two players share the victory this seems strangely friendly end for an otherwise savage little game, so we always play to the death. The second round began a little cagily with both players extending the plank, but then Burgundy was paid out for his treachery to Magenta when, in a moment of stupidity, one of his two remaining pirates dragged his pal off the end of the plank, leaving Pine the clear victor with two pirates still standing.  It was an exceptionally short game thanks to the early vindictiveness, but in truth, it is a much more fun game when it is played that way.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Despite the compressed nature of Walk the Plank!, Black and Purple still managed to squeeze in a little two-player abstract game called Mijnlieff (pronounced “Mine-Leaf”).  This is a beautiful little game made out of wood and designed by the designer of Dodekka, Andy Hopwood (Hopwood Games).  Black described the game as “fancy Noughts and Crosses” since the aim of the game is to form lines of three, but since there are different types of pieces and your opponent controlling where you can play it is much more strategic.  The game is played by placing wooden tiles on a four by four board.  Each Player has eight pieces with two each of four different symbols where the different pieces dictate where the other player can put their next piece.  For example, when a Greek cross (or “+” symbol) is played, the next player must place his piece on an empty square in an orthogonal line from the piece just played.  Similarly, playing a saltire (or “×” symbol) forces the next player to place his piece in a diagonal line from the piece just played.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Game play is really quick, so much so that despite Walk the Plank! finishing in record time, with Purple taking it by three points to Black’s two.  With everyone finished, we had a quick show of hands as to who would like to play the “Feature Game”, Kingdom Builder.  When seven hands went up, Green asked who was very keen to play it and nobody looked interested.  The most enthusiastic was Burgundy who had played it before, so Magenta swapped seats with Green to make a foursome with Blue and Pine.  On the face of it, Kingdom Builder is also a simple game, played by placing small wooden huts (Settlements) on a board made up of different terrains laid out using a fine hexagonal grid.

Kingdom Builder
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

At the start of the game, each player is dealt a terrain card and on their turn, they have to place three settlements on that terrain type.  As far as possible, the Settlements must be adjacent.  At the end of their turn, the player discards their card and draws a replacement.  Play proceeds in clockwise order until one player has run out of Settlements, then the round is completed and scores are tallied up.  While these are the basic rules, there are also specific rules that change for each game, and since the board is made up of four modules chosen at random from a set of eight, the number of possible layouts is vast. Each module board also has three special hexes on it: two with a gold scroll-work border (Locations) and one with a silver scroll-work border (Castles).  The Castles give points for players with an adjacent building at the end of the game while the Locations give an in-game benefit.

Kingdom Builder
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor SpaceTrucker

At the start of the game, each Location has two hexagonal chits on it which are taken by the first two players to build next to it.  These chits give players extra actions that they can take on their turn, but the nature of the Location and corresponding action is dependent on the boards chosen.  In this game we had the Tower, the Tavern, the Barn and the Paddock.  These allowed players to add an extra Settlement along the edge of the board; add an extra Settlement to where a player had a row of three or more Settlements; move an existing Settlement to a space matching the active player’s current terrain tile, and move one Settlement two spaces in a line from its current position (i.e. jump).

Kingdom Builder
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Points are awarded at the end based on the rules cards and a subset of three are drawn from a total of ten at the start of the game.  For this game, we draw the Knights, Discoverers and Citizens cards which gave two points for each settlement a player built in the horizontal row where they had the most Settlements; one point for each horizontal row in which they had at least one settlement, and one point for every two Settlements in each player’s largest settlement area.  Thus, to score one well, you needed a horizontal line, a vertical line and a clump, all with a limited number of huts.  To make the problem even more challenging the board layout had a large mountain range across the middle with a couple of awkwardly positioned rivers.  We all blamed Burgundy for his awful “choice” of boards and layout…

Kingdom Builder
– Image by BGG contributor pphh

Although the rules are prima facie quite simple we got into a bit of a tangle with the modifications caused by the Locations.  Blue kept forgetting that the Tower and the Barn were subject to adjacency restrictions and Pine struggled to see the point of the Barn at all.  Blue made an appalling start, while Burgundy’s best laid plans were stymied first by Blue and then by Magenta.  Meanwhile, Pine had got two groups of Settlements and was trying to build a vertical ribbon development to connect the two.  As Burgundy’s supply of Settlements dwindled faster than anyone else’s, Pine desperately needed to draw a desert terrain card, but kept drawing woodland cards which were nearly useless for him.  In the final round everyone tried to make the best of their limited number of remaining Settlements before totalling up the scores.  It was very, very close, but Blue finished with a round fifty, just two points ahead of Magenta, with Pine and Burgundy both within two points of her.

Kingdom Builder
– Image by boardGOATS

Kingdom Builder isn’t a long game, so Black, Green and Purple decided to opt for something short and light so settled on another old favourite, Splendor.  This is a fairly simple card game with a very loose gem merchant theme.  On their turn, a player can either collect chips (gems), or use chips to buy gem cards.  Most of the gem cards are effectively just a permanent source of chips, i.e. can be used to buy other cards, but the higher value ones also provide victory points.  Nobles can also give players points and these are claimed by the first player to collect certain combinations of gem cards (e.g. three each of onyx, sapphire and diamond).  The game finishes at the end of the round when one player gets to fifteen points, and the winner is the person with the most points.

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

Three of the four randomly selected Noble cards required a set of three green emerald cards as part of their requirements, with differing selections of the other colours; white diamonds, red rubies, blue sapphires and black onyx. The fourth Noble required four cards of each white diamonds and black obsidian.  With the first card selections it was clear that both Black and Green had studied the distribution of cards required to win Nobles tiles and were fighting hard to get the green emeralds that were available. Unfortunately, the number available was quite small, but nothing compared to the scarcity of rubies. The first of these was nabbed by Purple and Green, who failed to get the second was left unable to get the remaining one which was an expensive, high scoring, level three card.  Early on Black marked his intentions by reserving a level three (taking the bonus “wild” gold chip).  Meanwhile Purple was busy building a large supply of diamonds while Green concentrated on the low level emeralds and sapphires. With half a dozen cards each, scores were low and close, but quick glance across to Kingdom Builder showed they were still going through the rules…

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

Black reserved another high value card, Purple had managed a large haul of diamonds, both cards and chips and green had got his three green emeralds, now joined with three sapphires. Rubies still refused to come up with any kind of regularity which meant that players priorities usually changed quickly when one did come up.  Green was the first to obtain a noble when he got his third diamond card.  He did this with mostly non-scoring cards and so this only put his score on a par with the others.  The game entered a new tenser phase when Green quickly picked up his second noble after taking a third ruby card, though even he couldn’t quite believe he had managed to get three of them.  Black finally paid up for one of his put away cards and now the points were close to the end.

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

Black was just two points from getting the fifteen needed to trigger the end-game, and a study of the available cards showed Green that Black could get it with a diamond card on his next turn. Green persuaded Purple that she needed to take the diamond card using her gold chip (she couldn’t afford it otherwise) as she would not get another go if she didn’t and could not afford the high value one she was saving for anyhow.  Luckily the replacement card was not one which Black could afford so he had to take chips instead pushing the game into another round.  Green grabbed a high value level three card taking the bonus gold chip (giving him all he needed to buy it on his next turn) and Purple bought her high value card. Black bought his last reserved card, which put him on sixteen points giving Green one last turn. With a flourish he paid for his reserved card card which gave him three points and claimed the final noble for another three, giving him a winning total of seventeen points.  It was a few moments, before Green noticed and the others didn’t spot it at all, but Green’s last card was not a black onyx, but a fourth ruby – he had not got the noble after all.  Perhaps it was a touch of colour blindness from the excitement of the end-game, but Black was the winner after all with Green and Purple finishing in joint second.

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

Kingdom Builder should only take thirty to forty minutes, but for some reason it took nearly twice that, so Green, Black and Purple moved on to play Tobago, a really pretty game in which the players possess different parts of treasure maps and try to use narrow down the possible locations faster than everyone else in order get to the treasure first.  The idea is that on their turn, players can either can either play a card on one of the four Treasure Maps or move their little 4×4 truck up to three “legs” (a leg being anywhere within the current terrain, or a move from one terrain to another).  Playing a card narrows down the number of possible places that the Treasure could be, for example, “in the jungle”, “not next to a hut” or “in sight of a statue” etc..  Each clue card placed must narrow down the possible locations by at least one hex, cannot contradict a previous Clue, and cannot eliminate all possible locations for the Treasure.  Eventually there will only be one possible location, after which, the first player to get there retrieves the Treasure.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Lord Warlock

When a Treasure is retrieved, everyone who helped narrow down the treasure location by playing a card gets a share proportional to the amount of effort they put in.  Initially, each player gets a Treasure card for each clue card they contributed.  They look at the card(s) secretly before they are shuffled together with one drawn blindly from the deck. A card is then drawn at random and, starting with the player who found the Treasure, it is offered to each player in turn until someone takes it.  The order corresponds to the order they made their contribution, so some players may have made multiple contributions and therefore may get multiple chances to take a Treasure card.  Once a player has taken a treasure, that contribution is considered fulfilled.  The Treasure varies in value, but there are also two “Cursed Treasure” cards (also known as “Baad Treasure”).  If one of these is turned over, the remaining Treasure cards are not distributed and anyone left in loses an amulet (if they have no Amulet, they lose their most valuable Treasure card instead).  The appearance of Amulets is triggered every time a Treasure has been found and they can be collected by players moving their 4×4.  The player with the most Treasure at the end of the game wins.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Green’s strategy was to contribute as many Clues as possible, Black went for a drive to dig up treasure and Purple complained of having a terrible set of clue cards (to be fair she had a lot of “not in …” cards, which did prove difficult to place on the “in play” Treasure maps, but for some reason she was reluctant to start a new one). It was a slow start, but after the first treasure had been found and the Amulets started to appear we got into our stride a little more.  About half way through the game, Green checked the rules on what to do with the discarded Clue cards and instead found a small rule which stated that the one who takes the last Treasure card immediately places the first Clue on the now empty treasure “map”. We felt that this might have speeded the game up a little and implemented the rule.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Lord Warlock

Green and Purple were the first casualties of the “Baad Treasure”. They both had Amulets, but annoyingly a six point and a five point treasure were both lost.  The second time round we were all affected and everyone lost an Amulet, but the lost cards were not high value so it felt less of a loss somehow.  With only three treasure cards left in the deck (game ends when they are exhausted) placing Clues was quite tricky. Only one of the treasures would be found, and placing your clues on the others would result in nothing, but which one would be “found” first?  In the end it was a treasure only Green and Purple benefited from.  In the final scoring, Purple came out the richest finishing with thirty-eight, and Black came in second just four behind. So for all her complaining about her hand, she had made it work to her advantage. It also looked like Green’s strategy to spread clues thinly across all Treasure maps and let others do the actual finding, had failed as it made him almost certain to lose out when the “Baad Treasures” came up.

Tobago
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jayboy

By the time Kingdom Builder finally finished, Tobago was well under way, with no sign of finishing soon.  Magenta took an early night, so while Pine was at the bar, Burgundy and Blue discussed the options.  Given the time available, it was a toss-up between two games that Burgundy said he couldn’t get the hang of: Isle of Skye and Blueprints. Blue gave him the choice and in the end, he chose the latter as we’d not played it for a while.  This is a clever little building game where players are architects who must use different coloured dice (representing different materials) to build different structures from their blueprints.  The idea is that on their turn, each player chooses a die from the central pool and adds it to their building.  Each die must have the same value or higher than any it is placed on top of.  At the end of their turn, they roll a replacement from a bag, thus replenishing the dice supply.  Once each player has placed six dice, their building is evaluate depending on the colour of the dice they used, how many they are and their position etc.  For example, black dice score more if they are placed high up, whereas orange dice score more if they are surrounded by lots of other dice.

Blueprints
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The person with the best building wins the round winning the Gold Award which is worth three points at the end of the game.  Points are also available for Silver and (depending on the number of players) Bronze.  There are also Special Awards (which are worth two points at the end) which go to players who fulfil other specific criteria, such using five dice out of the six in the same colour or having a building with a height of five or more.  In the first round, Burgundy demonstrated exactly how he couldn’t get the hang of the game, but failing to make the Special Award he was trying for and also not scoring highly enough to take either the Gold or Silver awards.  The second round was notable for the number of black fours that were rolled, and how, despite that, Pine somehow managed to take the Special Award for using four dice with the same number, but with fives while Blue failed to do the same with fours.  Going into the last round, both Burgundy and Pine tried to collect green dice, leaving Blue the pick of the rest, her third Gold Award, second Special Award and a clear win with thirteen points.

Blueprints
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor dotKeller

With the evening coming to a close, there was just time for a quick filler.  Black commented that there was always “the old favourite” and since Pine claimed he’d not actually played it (though the logbook proved he had), there was no opposition to a quick closing game of 6 Nimmt!.  We reminded Pine of the rules:  players simultaneously choose a card, then simultaneously reveal them before playing them in ascending order placing each on on the highest card that is lower than the card being played.  When the sixth card is added to a row, the first five are taken and the number of heads contributes to the player’s score, lowest score wins.  The thing that makes the game so compelling is that any grip is incredibly tenuous and once it begins to go wrong it tends to escalate horribly.  In the first round, Green seemed to pick up everything and in the second it was Burgundy’s turn.  Black and Pine had two mediocre rounds and Purple made the only clean sweep.  It was Blue who got lucky this time though with two very good rounds totaling just two and four, so she took the game with a combined total of six, slightly ahead of Purple with twelve.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

We tend to play a variant over two rounds with half the deck in each round and not resetting the table in between.  This led to a bit of discussion as to why things tend to cascade.  The problem is that there are always some rows that get blocked off as they pick up a couple of high scoring cards as well as a finishing with a high face value card.  This means the chance of a player being forced to add something to (and take the row) is small, and nobody will take it voluntarily as the hit is too great.  In our game, three rows got blocked off early on in the first round which meant we spent nearly the whole game playing cards on one row.  The problem is that once a player has used, say, a low card that card is no-longer available, so the player is likely to be in the same position next time  too.  In the case of a six player game, things are exacerbated because it is the sixth card that triggers the pick up.  Thus, in our game, the first first player would take the singleton, leaving the next four players to add to the row and the player with the highest card to take the row and no better off for next time.  That doesn’t really detract from the fun though and it is still wonderfully stressful in a good way, so justifiably one of our favourite fillers.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcomes:  Sometimes some games just take much longer than expected.

Boardgames in the News: Ten Great Games to Play with the Family at Christmas

With the nights drawing in and the weather becoming increasingly wet and wintery, what could be nicer than an afternoon playing board games in front of the fire?  If you are new to the hobby, here are ten great modern boardgames to play over the Christmas holidays.  These are all readily available online and/or in dedicated boardgame shops.

  1. PitchCar – This superb car racing game is guaranteed to get kids of all ages playing together; the winner is the person who manages to flick their car round the track first. The game plays six people, but you can get more cars from the Ferti website and play a pursuit type game which is also good fun.  You can also get expansion packs to make your track longer and more interesting if you really like it.
    Target Audience: Families & parties; ages 2 to 102…
    Game Time: From half an hour tailor-able to the group, plus time to build the track.
    Price:  Approximately £45 from amazon.co.uk for the base game (also available in a slightly cheaper mini-version for those without a large table).

    PitchCar
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames
  2. Tsuro – Players take it in turns to build a path for their “dragon”, creating a maze for everyone else at the same time. The game lasts just fifteen to twenty minutes and plays up to eight people.  It combines just enough strategy and luck that if you get knocked out early, there is always time to try again.  Don’t be tempted to get Tsuro of the Seas though, it takes all the really good things about Tsuro and makes them slightly less good.
    Target Audience: Friends & Families with ages 8+
    Game Time: 15-20 mins with almost no set up time.
    Price:  £20-25 from amazon.co.uk.

    Tsuro
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv
  3. Bohnanza – This one sounds really uninspiring on reading the rules:  players have to trade beans to make the most money from the biggest and best bean fields.  Despite the unpromising sound, you only need to play it once with a couple of other people and before you’ve gone far you will agree it is one of the best games ever made – never has bean farming been so much fun!
    Target Audience: Older children and adults; ages 10+
    Game Time: 45-60 mins
    Price:  Readily available for around £15-20.

    Bohnanza
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor spearjr
  4. Dobble – With five games in the tin, this Snap-inspired game is excellent value.  Since it relies on reactions, it is also one of those games where children are often genuinely better than adults.  And it is so quick to play that it is an ideal game to squeeze in while the kettle is boiling or tea is brewing.
    Target Audience: 3 and up
    Game Time: 2 mins per round
    Price:  Readily available for around £10 or less.

    Dobble
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari
  5. Escape:  The Curse of the Temple – While most Euro Games don’t use dice, in this game players have five each.  This is a team game that is played against the clock, so has the advantage that everyone wins or loses together.  The team of five players simultaneously roll dice to explore the temple and activate gemstones and then try to escape together before the temple collapses around their ears.  This is also ideal for children to play with adults as they can work in pairs or groups learning communication and team working skills.  If the game seems too difficult for the group, it can also be made a little easier by reducing the number of gems the group have to activate.
    Target Audience: age 5+ as long as there are understanding adults playing
    Game Time: 10 mins per game plus a few minutes setting up
    Price:  approximately £25-30 from amazon.co.uk.

    Escape: The Curse of the Temple
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus
  6. Survive: Escape from Atlantis! – This is good fun and really, really nasty.  Not quite so easy to learn, but really not that difficult either and great fun with four people who have a competitive streak.  Each player has a number of pieces that they are trying to get from the central island to the mainland.  Players take it in turns to move a person or boat, then they take a piece from the island, finally they roll a die to move a whale, shark or sea-monster, with potentially devastating consequences…
    Target Audience: Teenagers; not recommended for children under 12 or people who can’t take getting picked on
    Game Time: 40-60 mins
    Price:  Approximately £25-30 from amazon.co.uk; a 5-6 player expansion is also available which makes things even nastier…

    Survive: Escape from Atlantis!
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman
  7. Dixit – This is a great game to play with the mums and grannies in the family.  Players take it in turns to be the “story teller” who chooses a card from their hand and gives a clue that everyone else tries to match.  Everyone then has to guess which card belonged to the story teller, with points awarded for good guesses as well as cards that mislead other players.  The original base game plays six well, but Dixit: Odyssey plays up to twelve with a slight tweak to the rules.  Extra decks of cards are also available.
    Target Audience: Friendly groups and parties.
    Game Time: 30-45 mins
    Price:  Approximately £15-30 from amazon.co.uk, depending on the version.

    Dixit
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor lacxox
  8. Colt Express – For older children and younger adults, this game is a glorious mixture of controlled chaos.  Players are bandits attacking and looting a fantastic 3D train.  Rounds are broken into two parts, first players take it in turns to choose the cards they will play placing them in a communal pile the centre of the table.  Then, once everyone has chosen, players carry out the action on each card in turn.  The problem is by the time they get to the end, the plans they had at the start have gone terribly awry…  A similar feel can be got from the pirate themed Walk the Plank! which is a cheaper, smaller, easier game that packs a lot of fun into a shorter playing time.
    Target Audience: Young, and not-so-young adults.
    Game Time: 30-60 mins
    Price:  Approximately £25 from amazon.co.uk; Walk the Plank! is available for £15-20.

    Colt Express
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman
  9. Ticket to Ride: Europe – Players are collecting coloured cards and spending them to place plastic trains on map/board with the aim of trying to build routes across Europe.  This game has been around a little while now and is available in several different flavours:  for the typical UK family, the Europe edition is probably best (plays up to five players), but for a couple, the Nordic edition with its gorgeous festive artwork might be more appropriate (only two to three players though).  If it is popular, there are also a number of expansion maps available.
    Target Audience: Age 10+.
    Game Time: 30-60 mins
    Price:  Readily available for available for £25-40 depending on the version and vendor.

    Ticket to Ride: Europe
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke
  10. No Thanks! – A quick and simple little betting game anyone can play.  The game consists of a deck of cards and some red plastic chips.  The first can take the top card, or pay a chip and pass the problem onto the next player.  The aim of the game is to finish with the lowest total face value of the cards, but if woe-betide anyone who runs out of chips as they will be left at the mercy of everyone else.
    Target Audience:  Friends and families; children aged 8+.
    Game Time: 10-15 mins
    Price:  Readily available for approximately £10.

    No Thanks!
    – Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

3rd Movember 2015

Like last time, we started out messing about with the dexterity game, Bellz!.  With Blue, Magenta and Burgundy all familiar with it, it was a very tight game.  As the only person who hadn’t played it before, it took Red a couple of turns to get the hang of it before she developed a devastating new technique and came storming from the back to snaffle first place.  Next time there might be a new house rule…

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor W01FVF

Despite the original prognosis of an hour’s wait for food, the pub kindly rushed us through so while we munched we played a quick game of Turf Horse Racing on a very lumpy course.  It was a while since we last played it, so Green reminded us of the rules.  The idea is very simple, players have three counters to use for betting, two small and one large, double weight one.  In the first stage, players take it in turns to use these counters to bet on horses.  In the second stage, players take it in turns to roll the die and move a horse to determine the outcome of the race.  The game works because the die has three horses heads with one of each of the other icons, and each horse moves a different amount depending on what is rolled.  Since each horse has to move before a horse can be moved again, players can choose to make a positive move for one of their own horses, or nobble someone elses.

Turf Horse Racing
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor franchi

Silver Blaze had a fantastic start so for the next few rounds, but from then on, his progress was slowed by everyone who hadn’t bet on him.  Once the rest of the field had caught him up, the pack stayed together for the rest of the race until Roamin’ Emperor finally broke free with the finishing line in sight.  Then suddenly, Magenta played king-maker giving Red Baron a sudden spurt to win bringing the game to an abrupt finish with Roamin’ Emperor coming in second and Mosstown Boy third, bringing home the rest of the field.  Although Magenta had an investment in Mosstown Boy, Burgundy was the real winner as he had his double bet on the green horse and he finishing ahead of Magenta by several lengths.

Turf Horse Racing
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor franchi

With the arrival of a new player during the game, that gave us six, so we decided to play our the  Halloween-inspired “Feature Game”, Witch’s Brew.  This is a role selection card game with aspects of set collecting and bluffing that has recently been reimplemented as this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres, Broom Service.  Each player begins each round with a deck of twelve character cards from which they choose five.  The start player then selects a card and places it on the table and declares they are that character by saying, for example, “I am the witch”.  The next player examines their hand of five chosen cards, and if they don’t have the same card, they pass.

Witch's Brew
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Play continues until there is a player who is holding the current character card, in which case they then have a choice.  They can object and declare that they are the character instead, saying, for example, “No, I am the Witch”.  In this case, they replace the first player as “the Witch” – the player who is the Witch at the end of the round gets the richest pickings and starts the next round, while everyone else gets nothing.  Alternatively, they can take the “cowardly” option and acquiesce, instead saying “so be it”.  In this case, they immediately take a lesser reward.  Although the decision is a simple binary one, the ramifications are potentially complex and far-reaching, added to which it is a lot of fun to watch player after player declaring their character only to be shouted down by their neighbour.

Witch's Brew
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

The aim of the game is to collect ingredients for potions and then prepare them.  The more complex the potion, the more it is worth at the end of the game.  Thus, players might use the Snake Hunter to collect snake venom and the Herb Collector to provide them with herb juice which can then be used together to brew a potion in a silver cauldron using the Druid.  Players can also pick up points for potion shelves, but the characters used to claim these (the Cut Purse and the Begging Monk), force all the other players to pay a tithe, which will be used to cover the cost.

Witch's Brew
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Nobody had played it before, but Blue, having read the rules, started out well while everyone else was still working out what to do.  Pine was unlucky just failing to get enough gold/ingredients to pick up potion shelves on several occasions.  Burgundy also struggled to make the game work for him, and when he eventually succeeded in brewing his first potion it felt like a real success.  Working steadily, Blue gradually built up an unassailable lead though Green came from nowhere with his last couple of cards, finishing in second, by just a couple of points.

Colt Express
– Image by boardGOATS

The next game up was Colt Express, newly pimped out with fancy gems, purses and a new large start “poppel” from Essen.  The game itself is quite straight forward, but it usually takes at least  round to see how it works.  The idea is that game play is in two phases:  first players take it in turns to chose which cards they are going to play, then players take it in turns to action the cards they chose in the order they chose them.  Although we’ve played Colt Express quite a bit recently, with Pine new to the game, and the chaotic nature of it, it seemed a little unfair to drop him in the deep end and include the expansion as it adds quite a bit more complexity.  So, after admiring the wooden horses and 3D stagecoach, and discussing the DeLorean mini-expansion, we decided to stick with the base game.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor sdetavern

The game started out with bullets flying every where and, unusually, mostly finding their targets.  As the game progressed, even the marshal joined in the fun making Ghost (played by Magenta) a real spook for Halloween.  Burgundy (playing Belle) and Red (Cheyenne) started out well with some valuable pickings.  Magenta, starting to look like a piece of Swiss cheese, was seriously hampered by the nine bullet holes she had picked up, and Pine (Doc) was not far behind with seven, though he was giving as well as taking.  Somehow Green (playing Django) who we normally take care to make sure can’t get ahead in games like this, had largely managed to avoid being shot.  This gave him a significant advantage added to which, everyone else  foolishly left him to play his own game.  Before long he was getting away with the strong box (now upgraded to a gold bar) worth $1,000.  This, with the Sharp Shooter Bonus gave him the win, $750 ahead of Blue in second (playing Tuco) who also picked up the bonus for emptying her magazine.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Magenta and Red were determined that Blue should get an early night to nurse her cold, but she managed to persuade them to one last quick game of one of our current favourites, 6 Nimmt!.  The first round all went according to plan with Burgundy once more picking up more Nimmts than anyone else.  As usual, he did much better in the second round, but couldn’t match Blue and Red who finished in joint first place with a total of just eight each.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Organised chaos is a fun part of lots of different games.