Tag Archives: Concordia

30th October 2018

The evening began with the inevitable post-Essen chit-chat and games-mule deliveries (though most of it hadn’t been unpacked so that’s something to look forward to next week too).  Burgundy was very pleased with his substantial pile of Concordia expansion maps though (including the new Venus expansion and older Britania/Germania, Gallia/Corsica packs), and Pine was thrilled to hear there was a copy of Echidna Shuffle on its way for him too.  With food delayed, and a lot of people already arrived, we decided to get going with the  “Feature Game”.  Prior to Essen, we had planned to play Key Flow, however, that hadn’t been unpacked and there wasn’t time to learn the rules, so instead the “Feature Game” chosen was Peppers of the Caribbean.  This is  a cute little set collecting card game with a very loose pirate theme.  Each card features a number, a colour and a type of food.  The idea is that there is a face up market and on their turn, players can either take cards from the market, or play cards.

Peppers of the Caribbean
– Image by boardGOATS

To take cards from the market the active player must first discard a card and can then take all the cards of that colour or all the cards of that food type into their hand, discarding down to seven if necessary.  Alternatively, they can play set of three or four cards where all the cards have different colours and different food types.  Of these, two cards are discarded and the remaining cards are kept for scoring.  At the end of the game players sum up the face value of the cards in their pile of kept cards, and the highest score is the winner.  There are one or two fine details, for example, as well as “chilli cards” there are also rum cards which feature two colours and no food.  These have a high value (six, compared with one to four for the chilli cards) and help people make sets more quickly.  However, as they have two colours, this means there can only be one rum card in a set and the maximum set size is then three, so only one card can be kept reducing the scoring opportunity.  There are also bonus points cards which are drawn largely at random from a pile—some of these are end-game bonuses and others reward the first player to reach a goal (e.g. be the first player to have all four different food types in front of them).

Peppers of the Caribbean
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue and Pink had played it a couple of times in their hotel bar and on the train home.  They had found it a diverting little game with two and had wondered how it would play with more people.  Somehow it is one of those games that is slightly confusing at the start and things were made more challenging as it started off with three players and ended up with five as more people arrived.  As a result there were slow starters and “fast twitch” players—it was close at the top though with Burgundy and Ivory some way ahead in a tight finish, which Ivory took by just three points.  Although everyone could would play it again, it was clear that the game would be better with fewer players where there would be less fluctuation in the market and everyone would have more chance to get what they want.  It only became clear some time later that there had been a mix-up somewhere along the line and although the side of the box said it was suitable for five, the bottom and the website indicated that the game was only intended to play a maximum of four anyhow…

Peppers of the Caribbean
– Image by boardGOATS

Just as the game was coming to an end, Black and Purple arrived, in need of some R&R after what had been a trying day.  They had also brought some of their Essen Loot (including a copy of Las Vegas for Red), and the Essen discussion began again.  Black and Purple had been at the fair for the full four days and felt that a minimum of two was needed to see everything, but three days was a more realistic time.  Blue and Pink went for just two days as they can’t cope with the crowds for more; even they are considering a Thursday-Friday-Sunday strategy for next year though as there are now six halls (some very large indeed), and they had missed a lot of things this year that they had wanted to see.  That said a lot of games sold out including the expansions for Altiplano and Great Western Trail (Altiplano: The Traveler and Great Western Trail: Rails to the North), Mini Rails (again!), Hanamikoji, Food Chain Magnate, Roll to the Top, Majolica, Spirit Island, Echidna Shuffle, Ceylon and headline releases Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Architects of the West Kingdom, Newton, The River and Everdell.  Some of these went ridiculously fast, for example Everdell apparently sold out in six minutes on Saturday despite its not insubstantial price tag of €70.

Essen 2018
– Image by boardGOATS

Purple and Black were particularly pleased with Solenia, which they had played at the fair and then managed to grab one of the last few copies available.  A beautiful game with a totally over-produced large yellow airship and cards with a hole in the middle, it wasn’t long before it became clear that it was going to be one of the games to make it to the table. The pretext is that several millennia ago, the tiny planet Solenia lost its day-and-night cycle; its northern hemisphere forever plunged into darkness, and its southern hemisphere eternally bathed in bright sunlight. Players travel the world delivering the rarest gems and stones to the Day people and need wood and wheat to the Night people who need them to survive. In return players receive gold stars and the player with the most at the end of the game is the winner.

Solenia
– Image by boardGOATS

In each round, players take it in turns to play one card from their hand onto an empty space of the five-by-five game board. Cards can be played either on a Floating Island or a Floating City.  Cards played on Floating Islands will give as many resources as the value of the card played of the type corresponding to the City.  Cards played on Floating Islands enable players to fulfil a delivery tile by delivering the resources depicted on it.  Cards must be played adjacent to the airship in the centre of the playing area or adjacent to one of the players previously played cards.  When someone plays a zero card, the airship advances one space, along the modular board and at the end of that turn, the back piece of the player board is removed and players receive resources based on the cards they have on this strip of the playing area.  This strip is then turned over (turning night to day or dawn to dusk or vice versa), and it is placed on the front edge of the game board, and thus the airship moves across the planet.  This constantly changing board rolling through from day to night and back to day again gives the game a unique feel.

Solenia
– Image by boardGOATS

Although resources were far from scarce unlike other resource management games, it still has quite a bit of resource management thanks to a strict resource limit on a players personal board.  Thus, the real problem came in deciding which were the most important resources to keep, a little bit of area control/route planning and a few paths to victory points. The constantly changing nature of the game doesn’t lend itself to a developing narrative though having played it before, Black and Purple had have an edge over Green.  This wasn’t helped when Green misunderstood one of the cards and tried to do something clever to multiply his points.  The first attempt failed, but on the second try he thought he had achieved more points and the misunderstanding came to light—the bonus points only applied to the card itself not to all types of terrain he had cards on.  However it would not have changed the placing.  It was very tight between Black and Purple until Black managed to gather together three pairs of day and night bonus chits, which hadn’t been looking likely until the last couple of turns.  With that he just sneaked his nose in front winning by three points.  Overall Solenia is a clever game that takes a run through to get a feel for how it works and then you then just want to play again, so it won’t be long before it gets played again.

Solenia
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile the other four were giving Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra a try.  This was another Essen release that had generated a lot of “buzz” in advance, as it was produced by the same team that originally published this year’s double award winner, Azul.  Blue, Purple, Black and Pink had all tried it and found the scoring sufficiently different and interesting that they had collectively come back with two copies.  Initially the conversation centred around theclear plastic tiles that, largely dependent on age, reminded some people of Spangles (“The sweet way to go gay”) and others of “Tunes” (“Help you breath more easily” and thus “Book a second-class ticket to Nott-ing-ham”) .  Once the subject had moved away from 1980s confectionery, attention focussed on the new game and its similarity and contrast with the original Azul.  As in the original, players take all the tiles of one colour from a “factory” and put the rest in the middle, or they take all the tiles of one colour from the middle.  Tile placement and scoring is rather different however.  All the tiles taken in a turn are placed in a single column of the player’s personal player board.  This board is modular with the double-sided strips laid out  at random so everyone has a different starting setup.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Above the board each player has a figure, their Glazier, who marks one strip.  Tiles must be placed in the strip or column immediately below the Glazier, or in a strip to the right of the Glazier.  The Glazier gives players another option on their turn too, as players can choose to reset his position to the left most strip instead of taking tiles.  Scoring is very different, with players getting points when columns are completed. The number of points scored is the sum of the score depicted below the strip, plus the score for any strips to the right that have been completed plus any colour bonus (each round has a colour drawn at random at the start of the game).  Once a strip has been completed, it is flipped over; after it has been filled a second time it is removed, reducing the players placement options providing a subtle catch-up mechanism that takes effect towards the end of the game.  Any left over tiles that cannot be placed yield a penalty, as in the original Azul game, but this is also different.  In addition to the positive score track, there is also a negative score track where the steps start off small and then get larger; penalties are accrued for left-over tiles and also for being first to take a tile from the middle (and with it the Start Player token). There are also end-game bonus points with two variants available, one colour dependent and the other rewarding completing adjacent strips. All in all, the game is definitely a step up in complexity, making it a challenge for those who have played Azul extensively.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

As we fall into that category we had high hopes that Stained Glass of Sintra would be a good fit.  It certainly offers a new challenge, though it was clear that the fact Blue had played it before gave her a significant advantage.For example, the timing of repositioning the Glazier is very critical.  It doesn’t necessarily prevent a player getting a load of tiles they don’t want (as everyone can reposition their Glazier and the problem will come back round), but players don’t want to be stuck with their Glazier far to the right at the start of a new round as that limits their choice when the options are best.  Similarly, player don’t want to reposition their Glazier too frequently as this reduces the number of tiles they take and therefore affects their score.  Behind blue it was very tight for second place with just five points covering Pine, Burgundy and Ivory.  It was Pine who got his nose in front though, by keeping his negative score down and concentrating on his end-game bonuses.  Unfortunately, the game is not as nicely produced as the original: the broken glass tower is made of very thin card (more like thick paper) as is the score board.  The “glass” pieces are also somehow not as nice as the resin tiles in the original and the colours are less distinguishable as well.  These negatives are a real shame as they take the edge off what would otherwise be a excellent reimplementation of the superb original game.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Green and went home for an early night leaving five others and Pine who wanted to play something “in about forty-five minutes”.  Deciding what to play took so long that there nearly wasn’t time to play anything, but after three new games, everyone was in the mood for something “comfy”, and eventually Bohnanza appeared.  Pink’s new “Fan Edition” was still packed, as was the Jokerbohnen mini-expansion that Blue had acquired.  She had not brought her Spanish copy either, so it was the “boring” Rio Grande edition, but familiarity sometimes has its place, and this was one of those times. Nobody needed a reminder of the rules (plant the first bean in hand; optionally plant the second; turn over two cards and plant or trade them; trade from hand, and draw cards placed at the back of the hand), but the setup varies for different numbers.  It wasn’t long before we were underway though and Purple began to amass a  crazy number of Red Beans.  It felt like nobody else could really compete though Black came close finishing with thirteen coins, one behind Purple.

Bohnanza
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  New is very exciting, but that comfy pair of old slippers still has its place.

10th July 2018

While those eating finished, we welcomed an old friend from the Didcot Games Club on his first visit, and began the evening began with a quick game of an old classic, High Society.  Designed by Reiner Knizia, this is a light bidding game with a catch, in the mold of games like For Sale, No Thanks!, Modern Art, and perhaps our old favourite, Las Vegas.  First released over twenty years ago in the designer’s heyday, a beautiful new edition has recently been published by the Cumnor Hill-based company, Osprey Games.  In High Society, everyone starts with the same set of money cards, each numbering from 1,000 up to 25,000 Francs.  The game is all about correct valuations. Players take it in turns to bid for the luxury objets d’art for sale, however, when they increase their bid, they add money cards to their personal bidding pile, and there is no concept of change.  Thus, as the game progresses, players have fewer and fewer bidding options  as they spend their money cards, and are increasingly forced to big large amounts potentially for relatively low value items.  Some of the objects for sale are not so much art, as artless, and can halve a player’s score, lose them points, or even cause them to discard something they purchased previously and the first person to withdraw, “wins”, while everyone else pays whatever they wagered.

High Society
– Image by boardGOATS

The other twist is at the game end which occurs abruptly when the fourth “end game” card comes out.  At this point, the player with the least money at the end is eliminated regardless of the value of their luxurious objects.  Despite the age of the game, a lot of people were new to it, and as the valuation of the luxuries is the key, some people found knowing how much to bid challenging.  As is the case with this sort of game though though, until the scores were actually calculated nobody knew who was winning, especially as the money was tight at the bottom.  Purple and Black (or “The Dark Destroyer as Ivory called him”) had pots of cash, but Red was just eliminated ahead of Yellow.  That left the final count:  Black was by far the most efficient, with a score of fourteen, two more than ivory – quite remarkable given the amount of cash he had left at the end.  It was Yellow though, who having just escaped elimination, finished some way in front with nineteen points.

High Society
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone fed and High Society over, we split into two groups: one to play the “Feature Game” (which was to be Keyflower) and the rest to play something else.  As always, the issue was what the other game was to be and almost everyone was happy to play Keyflower, but for some, the final decision depended what the other game was to be.  The problem was that the choice of the second game depended on who was going to play it.  Eventually, Purple broke the deadlock when she said she would be happy not to play Keyflower.  With Red having requested it in the first place, and it being Blue’s favourite game, it was just a matter of who would fill the remaining seats.  In the end, Pine, Burgundy and Ivory joined Red and Blue, leaving Yellow, Black and Purple to play Calimala, an area-influence driven, worker-placement game set in the Republic of Florence during the Late Middle Ages.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

This is an unusual game with variable setup to keep it fresh.  The idea is that on their turn, players place one of their workers on one of the twelve worker spaces.  Each one of these is adjacent to two of the nine action spaces. If there is already a worker disk present on the space, once the active player has carried out their actions, then the other player gets another turn.  This continues until a player places the fourth disk on a stack: actions are carried out for the top three disks and the fourth is placed on the first available scoring tile which is then triggered.  Each player has some worker disks in their own colour and a small number in white.  Coloured disks give players a maximum of two actions on three occasions (i.e. a total of six), while white disks give four actions when played, but none later in the game.  The actions include acquiring resources (brick, wood or marble), building (ships, trading houses or workshops), create artwork, produce cloth, transport cloth, and contribute to the building of the churches.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

The fifteen scoring phases are built on the actions, rewarding players for the amount of cloth they have shipped to a given city or combination of cities for example, or for their contribution to a specific building, or their contribution to the building effort of a given resource.  In each case, the player with the most scores three points, the player in second place scores two and the player in third gets just one point.  In case of a tie there is a complicated series of tie-breakers.  The game ends when either all fifteen tiles have been scored, or everyone has placed all their workers (in which case any remain tiles are scored).  It was another close game:  “The Dark Destroyer” scored heavily for the cloth in the Port Cities (Barcelona, Lisbon and London), while Purple scored for the trading cities (Troyes, Bruges and Hamburg).  Calimala is one of those games that rewards players who score “little and often”, and it was Yellow who managed to score most frequently.  There were a lot of tie-breaks however, particularly between Yellow and Black and it was probably the fact that Yellow did better in these that tipped the balance, as he finished just ahead of Black with a winning score of forty-five points.

Calimala
– Image by boardGOATS

Keyflower was still under way, so the players looked around for something quick to play and picked one of Yellow’s favourite games, Red7.  On the surface, this is a fairly simple game, but underneath it is much more complex.  The game is played with a deck of forty-nine cards, numbered one to seven and in seven different colour suits.  Each player starts with seven cards in hand and one face up on the table.  The player with the highest value card is “winning” because the rule at the start is that the highest card wins.  On their turn, each player can play one card from their hand into their tableau in front of them, or play a card into the centre which changes the rules of the game (a little like Fluxx), or they can do both.  If they cannot play a card or choose not to, they are out of the round.    In the event that there is a tie and the highest face value is displayed by more than one player, the tie is broken by the colours with red higher than orange and so on through the spectrum to violet.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The colours also dictate the rules, so any red card played in the centre will change the rules to “the highest” wins.  Similarly, any orange card played in the centre changes the rules so that the winner is the person with the most cards of the same number.  In each case, if more than one player satisfies the rules, the tie is broken by the card that is highest (taking into account both number and colour).  Thus, if the rule is “the most even cards” and there are two players with the same number of even cards in front of them, the player with the highest even card is the winner.  At the end of their turn, the active player must be in a winning position, or they are out of the round. The round continues until there is only one player left.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

We last played this a few years back when we made rather heavy weather of it.  Part of the problem was that there were several of us and we were all new to it.  This meant we struggled without someone to lead the way.  With Yellow very familiar he was able to show everyone else how to play.  Inevitably, this meant he won (giving him a hat-trick).  The game was played over five rounds and at the end of each round the player who was left at the end kept their highest cards.  With Yellow so much more familiar with the game than anyone else, it was inevitable that he would be able to build on this, and he made the most of it.

Red7
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

By this time, the next table were just coming to the end of their game of Keyflower, and we had all found it unusually hard going, that is to say we all struggled to find anywhere to score points.  The premise of the game is quite simple:  over four rounds (or seasons) tiles are auctioned using meeples (or Keyples) as currency.  The clever part is that to increase a bid, players must follow with the same colour.  Keyples can also be used to perform the action associated with a tile, any tile, it doesn’t have to be their own, but each tile can only be used three times in each round and, again, players must follow the colour.  The aim of the game is to obtain the maximum number of victory points at the end.  However, the highest scoring tiles aren’t auctioned until the last round (Winter), so players have to keep their options open.  On the other hand, the tiles that are auctioned in Winter are chosen by the players from a hand of tiles dealt out at the start, so players can choose to take a steer from that, or, if things go badly wrong, decide not to include certainly tiles.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

These games are nearly always memorably epic and this was definitely no exception.  The game started of with Ivory declaring that while he loved it, he thought it was maybe “a bit broken” because in his experience, there was one winter tile that would guarantee a win to the player that got it.  Blue and Burgundy thought they knew he was referring to “The Skill Tile Strategy” and agreed it was powerful, but felt it wasn’t over-powerful.  Blue said she thought it was only a guaranteed win if everyone else allowed it.  Pine suggested that playing the game would give Ivory another opportunity to gather evidence to see if this was the case.  As soon as the winter tiles were dealt out, it was clear that Ivory had one of the tiles that rewarded players with lots of Skill Tiles, and everyone knew what his strategy was going to be.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Spring started and it quickly became clear that it was going to be a fight.  Initially, Blue went for the Peddler which converts yellow Keyples into Green ones, but Pine thought that sounded good, and outbid her.  Next she went for the Miner which gives two coal, upgradable to three, but Red outbid her on that.  Somewhat in error she tried to get the Woodcutter which gives two wood (upgrading to a wood and a gold), but Burgundy outbid her.  Ivory also got in on the act, beating her to the Keystone Quarry, which meant Blue finished spring with no Village tiles at all.  At least she didn’t over-pay for anything though, and it meant she had plenty of Keyples to bid with for Summer, at least in theory.  The lack of tiles meant she didn’t have a strategy though, while everyone else was beginning to build theirs.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

With summer came a whole new set of interesting tiles, for Ivory, that included the Hiring Fair which gives two tiles in exchange for one (upgradable to three tiles for one).  Given that Ivory had telegraphed his plans, and that Burgundy took one for the team during Concordia last time (when he took the Weaver and gave everyone else a chance), Blue felt it was her turn and she made it her business to outbid him, even though this gave her a tile she had very little use for.  As the only one with any meeples to speak of, Blue managed to pick up three boats relatively cheaply too.  She didn’t have it all her own way though, as Pine took the Farrier (extra transport and upgrade ability) and Ivory took the Brewer who turns skill tiles into Keyples.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Unusually, there had been a lot of bidding for the end of season tiles and it came to a peak in autumn with everyone jostling for position for the final round.  The other tiles were generally less popular, however, and most people were trying to keep their Keyples to themselves where possible, hoarding them for the final round.  And it was in the final round that it all came to a head.  Everyone had to put in at least one tile, but nobody seemed terribly keen to put any in.  Blue had contrived to win the start Keyple at the end of autumn, and started by bidding for the Key Guild tile which had been put in by Ivory.  Inevitably this descended into a bidding war, which Blue won.  The Key Guild tile gives ten points for any five skill tiles, so Blue was finally able to use her Hiring Fair to get points. Having had his plans scuppered, Ivory moved on to messing with Pine’s plans, while Red engaged Burgundy in a bidding war for the Jeweller tile (which increases the value of gold from one point to two), and lost.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

It had been a  really tough game with points really hard to get hold of, and that was visible in the scores.  It was very tight with just six points covering Red, Burgundy, Ivory and Pine and all of them in the low to mid forties.  Blue finished with sixty-one however, thanks largely to her twenty points for her skill tiles and sixteen for her boats.  It had been a very stressful game, that led to a considerable amount of discussion.  Ivory felt the fact that Blue had won using skill tiles confirmed that they were over-powered, but Pine and Burgundy were less certain, so the jury is still out.  Blue said that every game was different and the point was that it was up to other players to stop the person who is making a beeline for skill tiles, in fact, that was exactly what she had done to Ivory, as he put that tile out in winter.  The discussion would have continued, however, it was getting late and people began to leave.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, Burgundy and Blue felt there was just time for a quick game of NMBR 9.  This little game has been a real success within the group, mostly at the start as a warm-up game, but occasionally as filler too.  Pine took the deck of cards and began turning them over, with everyone else taking the number shaped tiles and adding them to their tableau.  It was another tough, tight game, but Blue managed to squeeze one of her eights on to the fourth level giving her twenty-four points for that tile alone.  Aside from that, the levels and therefore the scores were very similar, so Blue took victory by twenty-one points from Pine in second place.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is better to keep your plans to yourself.

26th June 2018

It was an remarkable evening from the very start:  Burgundy had a drink at the pub for the first time in known history, Blue eschewed her usual pizza and chips in favour of the ploughman’s special (both consequences of the heat), and to top it all, a new gamer, Viridian, turned up.  Inspired, while food was still being consumed, we quickly sorted out who was going to play what, and the first game got started with another outing for Echidna Shuffle.  This was a game some of us played at the UK Games Expo and was such a success that Purple and Black brought a copy home.  The game is a very simple, pick up and deliver type game with beautiful pieces.  Basically, each player has a set of three coloured insects and three matching tree stumps.  On their turn, the active player rolls a die and moves the fabulously large echidnas around, trying to use them to pick up their insects and drop them off on their stumps.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

We played Echidna Shuffle last time as the “Feature Game”, but instead of taking the expected  half an hour, it took nearer two!  Although it dragged a little towards the end, everyone had enjoyed it, but it was felt that it might not take quite so long when played with fewer people and with the alternative board: the “Winter Snowball Fight” side, rather than the pretty “Summer Leaf” side.  The “Snowball Fight” board is considerably more complex, with arrows going in lots of different directions giving players more options and opportunities to mess up other’s plans.  The game was tight, but didn’t go on anywhere near as long as last time and was all the better for it.  Everyone managed to get home their first bug reasonably easily, and Pine (the winner last time) was the first to get his second bug home with Purple just behind.  With the more complex patterns on this board it was much harder to keep people away from their third tree stump and despite everyone else’s best efforts, Purple managed to ease her way to her third stump and win the game.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table the “Feature Game”, Concordia had started, but still had a long way to go, so the group looked for something else to play, and attention fell on Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.  This is a light, pretty, tile-laying game with the tenuous theme of decorating the palace lake with floating lanterns and competing to become the most honoured artisan.  On their turn, players choose a tile from their hand of three and add it to the central palace lake.  Each tile is divided into four quarters, each of which has a colour, red, orange, blue, green, purple, black and white.  Every player then receives a lantern card corresponding to the color on the side of the tile facing them, with the active player receiving bonus cards for any edges where the colours of the new tile match those of the lake.  At the start of their next turn, players can gain honour tiles by dedicating sets of lantern cards, three pairs, four of a kind or seven different colours. Each tile is worth honour points and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

We’ve played this a few times, so in order to spice things up a little, we added the pavillions from the expansion, The Emperor’s Gifts.  This introduces the concept of the emperor’s pavilion;  players can place up to three pavilions during the game, on “unimproved” lantern tiles.  If the players make a colour match on a pavilion, they earn a gift from the emperor.  Two emperor cards are revealed at the start of each game, so at the start of their turn players can redeem two gifts to activate one of the cards and perform the special action associated with it.  Some of these gifts allow players another avenue to earn more honour whereas other gifts allow players to modify the state of the playing area.  Black, Purple and Pine all went after the highest scoring honour tiles requiring seven cards of different colours, while Green tried to maximise the efficiency of his cards taking the lower scoring combinations instead, but getting more of them.  The addition of The Emperor’s Gifts was a little controversial:  Black in particular was of the opinion that they made a nice little game unnecessarily complicated, while Green felt the base game was quite simple and benefited from the additional elements.

Lanterns: The Emperor's Gifts
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end the scoring was close, with a tie between Black and pine on fifty-three, and another tie between Purple and Green on sixty-one.  Even though the others were scornful of Green’s strategy, it nearly worked, but it was Purple, who had managed to get both her temples out and used the extra bonuses to good effect in the last few turns who won the tie-breaker with two favours to Green’s one.  And with it, she took her second victory of the night.  The “Feature Game” was still going on the next table, but Pine was finding it difficult going as he didn’t have his glasses.  Apparently he’d left them on the roof of his car and only realised once he’d got home and discovered them missing (possibly another consequence of the hot weather).  Green also wanted an early night so the group ended up chatting and Black took to spectating the game on the neighbouring table.  This was Concordia, a longer, strategy game of economic development in Roman times,  We’ve played it a few times on Tuesdays and Fridays (at the Didcot Games Club), and enjoyed both the base game and the Salsa expansion.  This time we used the Egypt map from Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta, the latest expansion.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

It was Viridian and Ivory’s first game of Concordia, and it was a while since Blue had played it too, so Burgundy explained the rules. Mechanistically, the game is quite simple:  players have a deck of cards and, on their turn, they play one and do what it says.  That’s all there is to it, but how the cards work together is the key.  Each player begins with a hand of Character cards (the same cards), six colonists and a handful of resources. The game is one of resource production and exploration. Notable cities are connected via land and (in the case of the Egypt map) river routes and each produces one resource.  These cards allow players to move colonists and build settlements, trigger production for all settlements in a given region, introduce more colonists etc., however one of the cards enables players to buy extra cards from the market (a face up display). The cards are played into a personal discard pile where they remain until the player plays their “Tribune” card to get all their cards back.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

Each player also has a warehouse of a fixed size which will hold a maximum of only twelve items, which at the start of the game includes four of their six colonists (two ships and two “Elvis-meeples” – the third ship and third “Elvis-meeple” start the game in Memphis, Uh-huh). So, managing resources and finances is one of the key parts of the game and it is essential that players have the right resources when they need them as there isn’t space to store excess. Another “pinch-point” is the cards; players can only play each card once before picking them all up. They also get income when they play their Tribune card to recover their cards, but as it is dependent on the number of cards they pick up, it is in the player’s interest to play as many cards as possible before collecting them all again – this also needs planning.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the characteristics of the Egypt map is how tight it is, making the game a bit of a knife-fight in a telephone box.  For this reason, it is imperative players get a good start and Ivory did just that, quickly commandeering two of the cities that produced fabric.  Before long he had engaged in a cycle of produce and sell, produce and buy and it was clear that everyone else was in danger of a sever trouncing.  Meanwhile, Viridian was building a strong-hold in the Oasis province and was also looking to be very competitive.  Blue had started off well too, heading for the Red Sea.  This is a new feature specific to the Egypt map, which has the ability to generate five Sestertii every time one of the Red Sea ports produce. In a game where money is so tight, this seemed like a really good idea, but Blue was keen to use her ship to build on all the Red Sea harbours first and needed resources to do that which meant she delayed to long to make best use of it and it took Burgundy to show her how to do it.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

All the while though, Ivory was getting ever stronger with his vast amount of cloth and then the Weaver card appeared in the card row.  This enables the owner to produce all their cloth at the same time, rather than having to produce them one province at a time.  There was a flurry of people buying cards and suddenly it was quite cheap, though nobody had any use for it except Ivory, as nobody else had any cities producing cloth.  And so, the Weaver sat there, unloved, until Burgundy took one for the team and bought it, much to Ivory’s disgust.  It was expensive though and cost Burgundy dearly.  Ivory couldn’t believe Burgundy had taken the Weaver, and lamented his failure to get it when he had the chance, possibly due to an uncharacteristic misjudgement, or maybe the heat was getting to him too.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bkunes

The game continued with players building up their production heartlands; Burgundy had a stronghold in the Valley of the Nile, while Viridian took the Farmer and Smith cards enabling him to produce with his wheat and silver cities.  It was about this point that the other game finished, and Black began spectating.  Ivory asked him how he thought he was doing and Black replied he had no idea, “You can never tell with Concordia.”  Ivory pressed some more and Black took a look at his cards and eventually said no.  The most challenging part of the game is the end-game scoring, which is tied up in the Character cards. In addition to a name and an action, each card is dedicated to a Roman God. Each God rewards the card’s owner with victory points at the end of the game.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

For example, Mars delivers points for colonists placed on the board. Each Character dedicated to Mars gives two points per colonist, so a player with all six colonists on the board at the end of the game and five Characters devoted to Mars will score thirty points. Thus, since the cards are effectively multipliers, in general, the strategy is to try to excel in one area rather than try to do a little bit of everything, but that is something that is definitely easier said than done.  Black’s intervention sparked a massive spell of card buying.  Burgundy went for “Mercurius” cards that reward players for having different types of production, while Ivory went for “Saturnus” cards which gave points for each populated province or region.  Blue on the other hand, noticed she already had a few “Jupitus” cards and there were lots on the table so made a beeline them and then started building in as many cities as she could.

Concordia: Ægyptus / Creta
– Image by boardGOATS

When Black came back for a second look and Ivory again asked whether he thought he would win, Black was less negative, but still not exactly positive.  And shortly after that, Blue took the last card (and with it the seven point bonus) and everyone tried to eek out what they could from their last turn.  It was tight, and as the scores for each card type were calculated, the lead changed repeatedly.  It turned out that Black’s reticence was well placed.  Although Ivory’s position looked good it was soon clear that his one hundred and twenty-nine wasn’t enough and the loss of the Weaver card had cost him dear.  Burgundy finished with one hundred and forty-five, scoring highly despite not having one really strong area (unusual in this game).  It was Blue who top scored though, with one hundred and fifty-four, thanks largely to her massive seven “Jupitus” cards.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:   Hot weather can have some strange effects…

31st October 2017

The evening began with Blue handing out Essen orders to Red (Sole Mio!, a relative of Mamma Mia!), Green (Thunderbirds and all the expansions), and Burgundy (lots of Concordia and Orléans bits).   Just to make sure Ivory and Pine didn’t feel left out, she had also brought a whole flock of boardGOATS to pass round – all suitably decorated.  There was a lot of discussion of the games at Essen, but Spiel has grown so much over the last few years that it was impossible to see everything as was evident when Green trotted out the fruits of his research and what was “hot”.  Altiplano, Clans of Caledonia, Photosynthesis, Gaia Project, Charterstone, and Noria were all completely missed for various reasons, but Pink and Blue had managed to look at Agra, Meeple Circus, and Kepler-3042 and had picked up copies of Keyper, Queendomino, Mini Park, Montana, Captain Sonar and Azul (Blue’s tip for Spiel des Jahres next year) among other things, all of which will no doubt appear over the coming weeks.

A Flock of boardGOATS
– Image by boardGOATS

With the chit-chat and pizzas over, it was definitely time to play something.  With six of us, it was almost certainly two games which was fortunate as Green wasn’t keen on anything Halloween themed, which ruled out the “Feature Game”, Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game. That wasn’t a problem though, as Pine was keen to play and everyone else was happy to be a third.  In the end, it was Blue that joined them as she hadn’t played it before.  With two novices, that meant a full explanation of the rules.  Dead of Winter is a semi-cooperative game.  There are a number of things that make it different from other, older cooperative games like Pandemic.  For example, there is a group objective, but each player also has a secret, personal objective:  players must achieve both to win.  There is also the addition of a traitor, who’s objectives are counter to everyone else.  Both Pandemic and Shadows Over Camelot have this mechanism integrated as part of an expansion, and in Dead of Winter, this is also optional, or (like another of our favourites, Saboteur) can be played in such a way that there may, or may not be a traitor present.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

Perhaps more significantly than these though, is the nature of the ticking clock.  In Pandemic there is a deck of cards that which dictate what happens and, ultimately, how long the game is going to go on for as the game ends if they run out.  The situation is similar in the other Matt Leacock games like Forbidden Island and its sequel, Forbidden Desert.  In contrast, Dead of Winter, is played over a set number of rounds.  There is still a deck, the “Crisis deck”, but this sets the tone of the round and provides the “team” with a task that must be completed before the end of the round otherwise nasty things happen.  In general, the Crisis sets a tithe of cards that must be forfeit by the “team” during the round.   Of course, as in real life, the “team” consists of people who have different agendas, and one who may be out to sabotage the colony…

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

So, at the start of the round, a card is drawn from the Crisis deck and then everyone rolls their dice and the first player takes their turn.  This begins with another player drawing a card from the Crossroads deck.  This player is supposed to read only the first line, unless the condition is fulfilled in which case they read the rest of the card.  These are quite clever, as they end with two options—the eponymous “Crossroads”. The text on these cards adds a lot of atmosphere as well as adding to the sense of impending doom as sometimes the card might be activated by something the active player does.  Each player starts with two Survivors and the active player has one die per character and an extra one.  The Survivors have special abilities and the dice are “spent” by them carrying out actions.  For example, a player could attack a zombie which costs one die, but the value of the die needed will depend on the character:  James Meyers who is a bit of a wuss, is rubbish at fighting and needs a six, on the other hand Thomas Heart is a violent sort who loves a good brawl and anything at all will do.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

As well as attack a zombie, there are a number of other actions that require a die, including search a location, clean the waste, and build a barricade.  Searching is the only way players can get Item cards.  Around the central game board, there are a number of special locations and each one of these has a pile of Item cards.  The distribution of the different types vary and depend on the location, for example, weapons are unlikely to be found a the hospital, but medicine is quite prevalent.  Like attacking zombies, ability to search depends on the different characters and some Survivors have a special ability which means they are good at searching in a particular location.  In contrast, anyone can build a barricade or take out the bins, so these actions can be carried out by anyone with any dice, as long as they are in the right place.  In addition to actions that require a die, players can also play a card, help deal with the crisis, move a Survivor, turn food cards into food tokens, request cards from other players, hand cards to other players or initiate a vote to exile someone.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

While there are lots of things players can do, there are also hazards along the way.  For example, moving from one location to another is risky, so the Survivor must roll to see what damage the exposure did.  It may be that they were well wrapped up and nothing happened, but it is also possible that they were wounded in the attempt, or caught frostbite which is nasty because the effect progresses in later rounds.  Worst, of course, is getting bitten because the Survivor dies straight away and the effect spreads to other Survivors at the same location (who also have to roll the exposure dice).  Once every player has taken their turn, the zombies swarm, arriving at each location that where there are Survivors, with extras attracted by noise.  If a location gets overrun by zombies, they start killing Survivors.  Every time a Survivor dies, they Colony’s moral drops.  The game ends moral gets to zero, the requisite number of rounds have been played or if the main objective has been completed.  Our main objective was simply to survive the five rounds we were to play.  Blue began with a serious lack of practical ability in David Garcia (accountant) and James Meyer (psychologist).  Fortunately that was made up for by Ivory and Pine who began with Thomas Heart (soldier), Andrew Evans (farmer), Janet Taylor (Nurse) and Edward White (chemist).

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

Andrew Evans, Janet Taylor, Edward White and David Garcia all had special abilities when searching and Thomas Heart was excellent fighting off zombies, while James Meyer just had an especially uncool anorak.  We started well and for the first couple of rounds, the zombies were only faintly annoying and the biggest issue was fulfilling the requirements of the Crisis Cards.  Early on, Ivory armed Andrew Evans with a rifle which enabled him to take out any one of the undead, something that proved very handy and made up for the enormous amount of noise Andrew Evans had been making during searching.  During the second round, Blue gained an extra couple of characters (Buddy Davis and Harman Brooks), which gave her extra dice and more special abilities she could use, but the downside was they came with a load of extra helpless survivors (folk that are a bit of a dead-weight and just need a lot of feeding).  It seemed like a gamble, but in the third round, Ivory “found” Sophie Robinson (a pilot) as well.   By the end of the third round, it was clear the message had got out to the zombie hoards and they were coming to get us (possibly due to the racket that Ivory had been making with Andrew).

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The fourth round was tight especially as everyone’s attention began to turn to their secondary goals.  The otherwise fairly useless James Meyer suddenly found himself some courage and a baseball bat and set about the un-dead with great gusto.  Pine decided that he really, really wanted that extra character that he’d been persuaded out of earlier in the game and acquired Alexis Grey, a librarian with an ability to search the library efficiently.  Going into the final round, we had to be a little careful in a couple of areas and moral was low, but it was clear that unless one of us turned out to be a traitor, the game was won.  And so it turned out: there was no traitor and it was just a question of who had succeeded in their secondary goal.  At the start of the game, Pine had been highly conflicted, needing medicine for Edward White’s special power, but also having a goal of needing to finish with two at the end of the game.  Since he started his final turn with no medicine, he thought the boat had sailed, but with his very last action, he happened to draw two medicine cards to satisfy his second objective.  Ivory also needed two medicine cards for his goal and had managed to hoard these throughout the game.  Blue’s challenge was more difficult as she needed the colony to have lost three members to the hoards.  Despite her best efforts to kill off some of her own Survivors, Pine and Ivory had generously helped keep them alive, so she failed dismally, the only one not to complete both victory requirements.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Although we had all enjoyed the game, it was unfortunate that there wasn’t a traitor as the lack of an enemy within meant it felt a bit like communal puzzle solving.  It was also unfortunate, that so very few of the Crossroads Cards actually had an effect as they mainly affected characters we weren’t playing with.  This wasn’t helped by our habit of forgetting to draw them and/or reading too much of the card.  We felt the Crossroads Cards would have been more interesting with extra players, but it was already a long game and we felt the down-time would really drag with more.  Certainly, some turns, especially as Blue and Ivory acquired additional Survivors, seemed to take an unbelievably long time already.  Certainly four would probably be the maximum we would want to play with, though we would also increase the likely-hood of a traitor as we felt we’d missed out on half the fun.  In conclusion, Red and Burgundy’s comment at the start now made sense, “It’s a good game, but if there’s something else more interesting about…”

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor zombiegod

Meanwhile, on the next table, Green and Burgundy were teaching Red how to play Puerto Rico.  This is a much older game which was the highest rated game for many years and is still well regarded.  Red had never played it and it was a very long time since Burgundy or Green had played it as well, so they were keen to see how it held up against some of the more modern games.  In Puerto Rico, players are plantation owners in seventeenth century Puerto Rico growing up to five different kind of crops: corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. Each plantation owner must try to run their business more efficiently than their competitors. First they must grow their crops then they must store them efficiently. Finally, players must sell their crops at the right time or ship their goods back to Europe for maximum benefit. In order to do this most effectively, the plantation owners must make optimal use of the arriving colonists and develop the capital city, San Juan, building useful amenities.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The flow of the game is quite straight-forward in that on their turn, the active player chooses a “role” then everyone takes it in turns to carry out the action associated with that role. Each role has a “privilege” which the active player gets which gives them a little bonus (as well as the opportunity to take the action first. Once everyone has chosen a role, the remaining role cards are “improved” by the addition of money, the used role cards are returned to the pool and the start player (The Governor) moves one player to the left before the new Governor starts the next round. The aim of the game is to get victory points which are awarded for buildings and for shipping goods. However, to build, players need money, and before they can ship goods, players need to be able to produce the goods with a plantation (and where necessary process them in the appropriate building).

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Each building/plantation has a special bonus, but for a player to receive this, the building needs to be occupied by a “colonist”. All these activities are carried out through the role cards. For example, the Builder enables players to construct a building, but the player who chooses the role gets the privilege of paying one doubloon less than they would have done otherwise. Similarly, the Craftsman is used to produce, but the privilege allows the player who chose the role to produce one extra item (of those they had already been able to produce). Other roles include the Captain (enables players to ship goods); the Trader (allows players to sell goods for money); the Settler (players can take a plantation tile and add it to their island); the Mayor (the ship of “Colonists” arrives and they are divided among the players), and the Prospector (everyone does nothing except the person with the privilege who takes a doubloon from the bank).  The game ends when either, one player has built their twelfth building or the supply of victory points or colonists has been exhausted.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

The first few rounds were a little tentative. Green started with the Governor (through random selection) and chose the build action first. Burgundy chose Mayor using his extra citizen to occupy both indigo plantation and production building. Red needed a little help to suggest that she place her citizen on her Corn rather than her small market since this would enable her to produce something, whereas in the market she would have nothing to sell. So inevitably Red then chose craftsman. This gave Red a two corn, Burgundy an Indigo and Green nothing as he only had indigo and one citizen.  From there, the game progressed as you might expect, with each player following a different strategy.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Green relied on his indigo resources and built a Small Market and an Office (so he could sell multiples of the same type of goods), dug a couple of quarries, and clearly went for a money and buildings strategy. When he started losing out in the Captain (shipping) phase he was able to very quickly buy a Wharf and always managed to ship something and thus stay in the running on victory points. He was the first to buy a big building of course and chose the one which gave him extra points for production buildings believing he could fairly easily add to his already reasonable tally. Burgundy went for a diversified portfolio of goods and as able to add a factory building which started to really rake in the money with four different types of goods. He was only missing corn, which he easily added to make an extra five doubloons every time craftsman came up. As a result he was not far behind Green at buying a large building.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Since he had been shipping regularly and gathering victory points Burgundy took the building that would give him an extra point for every four points he had, however about half way through the game he began to struggle with his shipping. Red had begun to regularly take Captain, which meant that he was last to load and would often miss out being able to load all his goods—without any kind of warehouse was regularly losing all his stock of two or three goods each time.  Eventually, he had enough of this and decided to do something about it.  The choice was between a Wharf and a Harbour:  increasing his victory point income every time he shipped, or gain an extra ship he could always ship to.  It was a tough choice, but in the end he chose Wharf only to then discover he did not have quite as much money as he thought and so had to settle for Harbour after all.  This nearly proved his undoing in the end, as with two or three more captain actions happening he still found himself unable to ship everything, losing several goods in the process—Red and Green made quite sure of that!!

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Red’s game was a little more tentative, as she found her feet, trying to figure out how the game all hung together. She struggled a bit with getting the buildings and plantations all occupied in the right way to produce what she needed. She ended up with a lot of Sugar, but her small warehouse meant that early on she did not have to discard it and was able to make a large shipment later on, locking out Burgundy, the other Sugar producer in the game.  In the end she ended up with more citizens that she had spaces and so for a while had an occupied Indigo Production building but no Indigo Plantation. It seemed it didn’t really matter though, as she had a good thing going on with the Captaincy, shipping large amounts of Sugar regularly giving her a regular supply of points. With everything else that was going on, Red didn’t get round to buying a large building.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game neared conclusion, we thought we would run out of Citizens first, but selection of the Mayor slowed and Captains became a more regular feature so the victory points dwindled fast. Green was worried that he might not get his large building occupied before the victory points ran out, so when he became Governor for the last time, he chose the Mayor in an effort to extend the game, much to Red’s chagrin.  She claimed that it was allowing Burgundy to get his large building occupied and thus gain more points, which is true, but it helped Green too.  In the end it was Red’s Captaincy that ended what proved to be an incredibly close game; Puerto Rico is not a game we usually think of as being so well balanced that the scores are always close. The hidden victory points and various other ways to gain points tend to keep players guessing right til to the end and it is usually possible for one player to quickly build an efficient engine which wipes the floor with everyone else.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

That wasn’t the case this time.  Although the actual game play is quite simple, Puerto Rico can be a challenging the first time as it is hard to really work out the best way to play, and things only become clear after two or three rounds.  So Red did really well, not only to keep pace with two experienced players, but especially to take second place against two players, scoring fifty points.  Green’s lack of resources to ship, even with his wharf, let him down and it was Burgundy, who scraped a win with fifty-three points.  While packing up, there was a lot of discussion about the game:  did Green really hand Burgundy victory by choosing that Mayor? We concluded probably not, as if Burgundy would have chosen it if Green hadn’t.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Puerto Rico used to be the gamers’ game of games for quite a few years, until Agricola elbowed its way to the top. Since then that top spot has been fiercely fought for and, as in Formula 1, (where everyone now talks about Schumacher, Vettel and Hamilton), everyone seems to have forgotten poor old Juan Manuel Fangio, the unsurpassed master for decades. Once in a while it’s good to bring out the old tapes and watch the old master at work though, and so it is with Puerto Rico.  After so many years it was interesting to see how it stacked up against the newest masters of the gaming world.  We concluded that it still competes very well: it has variety and simplicity at its heart, great interaction and just enough complexity to make it a challenge without needing a PhD just to understand the rules.

Puerto Rico
– Image by boardGOATS

Dead of Winter was still going and it sounded like there was another half an hour play, which meant there time for another, shorter game, and the group settled on Coloretto. Everyone knew it quite well it was a quick start.  On their turn the active player either draws a coloured chameleon card and places it on a “truck” or, they take a truck and its chameleons (which means they’re out for the rest of the round). The idea is that players are collecting sets of cards, but only three will yield positive points, with the rest scoring negatively.  There are some “special” cards as well, including multicoloured joker chameleons and “+2” cards which give an extra two points at the end of the game.  So, everyone was shocked when  a “+3” came out of the pile came.  Clearly there were some expansion cards in the deck and nobody had noticed despite having played with it several times before.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The first round was also remarkable in that first a yellow card was pulled, then a purple (placed on a different pile), then another yellow, which was placed on the purple pile, then a purple, which was placed on the yellow pile, to make two identical piles. So, what were the colours of the next two cards? Yes, yellow and purple! Burgundy and Red bailed at this point but Green decided to see where if he could get a second yellow or purple and ended up with a red instead giving him three singletons.  From there, the game progressed in the usual way. Green collected more new colours each with only one card, but that meant he had a wide choice to specialise in. Eventually he chose green as his primary colour, which the others found difficult to prevent him from getting. Burgundy was trying to keep his number of colours down, concentrating on just brown and yellow, but Red and Green kept ganging up on him to make sure he had to take something else very time.  To get round this, he ended up taking single cards several times, but that meant he didn’t get as many cards as he might otherwise have collected.  Red was the lucky one who took the rainbow joker and otherwise went for blues and purples.  She was forced to collect too many other colours though.  In the end, it was again Burgundy who managed to eek out the best score, despite Red and Green’s combined best efforts.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor SergioMR

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes winning is impossible, even with teamwork.

28th June 2016

Blue and Red arrived first, so once they had ordered food, they settled down to a quick game of Mijnlieff (pronounced “Mine-Leaf”).  This is basically Noughts and Crosses or Tic-Tac-Toe with a bit of added strategy and some beautiful wooden pieces.  We’ve played it a couple of times before on a Tuesday, but as it is an independently produced game (by Hopwood Games), it is difficult to get hold of and Blue had taken the chance to pick up a copy at Expo.  The aim of the game is to form lines of three or four, but the different types of pieces force your opponent to control where you can play.  For example, when a Greek cross (or “+” symbol) is played, the next player must place their 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 their piece in a diagonal line from the piece just played.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Unfortunately, Blue forgot to mention that if there was nowhere a player could go, they were forced to pass giving their opponent a free move, so when this arose, Red cried “foul” and Blue offered to concede the game.  It didn’t really matter much anyhow as Burgundy had arrived and so had food, so everyone’s attention was drawn elsewhere.  As other people arrived, we moved on to the inevitable post-Brexit referendum discussion:  the group consists of several continental European Union gamers (Denmark, Poland and Ireland), so we have a natural pro-Europe stance.  Consequently, the group as a whole has been pretty horrified at occurrences of the last week, and its long term consequences (not least of which is the increase in the cost of games!).  Before we depressed ourselves too much, however, we decided to play something to take our mind off it.  Since we were unsure of who was coming and with Pine wanting an early night, we decided to begin with something short, and with two possible games it seemed appropriate to have a quick referendum on the subject…  Saboteur went the way of the “Remain” campaign and lost by a tiny margin as we decided to turn the evening on its head and begin with 6 Nimmt! a game which we often finish and one that is guaranteed to cheer us all up.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

The game lived up its usual standard of chaotic fun, with Burgundy, Black, Pine and Green vying to collect as many high cards as possible.  After our usual two rounds, Purple finished with eight, but Blue took it with just six nimmts, all garnered in the first round.  With the fun over, it was on to the serious game and Pine left as he was “cream-crackered”.  The rest of us split into two groups for our “Feature Game”, Concordia, a strategic game of economic development in Roman times.  The game takes at least half an hour per person and with set-up and teaching, it was always going to take most of the rest of the evening.  Played on a beautiful map, Concordia is a game of resource production and exploration.  Notable cities which are connected via land and shipping routes, each produce one resource (indicated by tokens placed on the map allowing for variable set-up).  Each player begins with a hand of Character cards and six colonists and a handful of resources. Everyone begins the game with the same set of cards; on their turn, the active player chooses a card to play, and then carries out the associated action.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

These cards allow players to move colonists and build settlements, trigger production for all settlements in a given region, introduce more colonists etc., however one of the cards enables players to buy extra cards from the market (a face up display).  The cards are played into a personal discard pile where they remain until the player plays their Tribune card to get all their cards back. Each player also has a warehouse of a fixed size which will hold a maximum of only twelve items, which at the start of the game includes four of their six colonists (two ships and two “Elvis-meeples”).  So, managing resources and finances is one of the key parts of the game and it is essential that players have the right resources when they need them as there isn’t space to store excess.  Another “pinch-point” is the cards; players can only play each card once before picking them all up.  They also get income when they play their Tribune card to recover their cards, but as it is dependent on the number of cards they pick up, it is in the player’s interest to play as many cards as possible before collecting them all again – this also needs planning.

Concordia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Space Trucker

The most difficult part of the game is the scoring, however, which is tied up in the Character cards.  In addition to a name and an action, each card is dedicated to a Roman God.  Each God rewards the card’s owner with victory points at the end of the game.  For example, Mars delivers points for colonists placed on the board.  Each Character dedicated to Mars gives two points per colonist, so a player with all six colonists on the board at the end of the game and five Characters devoted to Mars will score thirty points.  Thus, since the cards are effectively multipliers, in general, the strategy is to try to excel in one area rather than try to do a little bit of everything, but that is something that is definitely easier said than done.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

With two copies of the game available and everyone keen to play it, we decided to split into two groups, both playing Concordia and both adding the Salsa expansion.  This is “Salsa” as in “Salt” rather than the Spanish “Sauce” or the Latin dance, so in addition to the standard resources of brick, wheat, tools, wine and cloth, we also had salt.  Salt is “wild”, so can be used as anything and adds some peculiarities to the scoring, but otherwise doesn’t make a huge difference to the game.  Both groups also chose to use the new Hispania board which includes the Iberia peninsula as well as the North Africa and Italian coast.  The biggest change to the base game, however, was the introduction of the Forum and associated Forum tiles.  These tiles come in two flavours, blue, which are perpetual, and green, which offer an instant, one-off reward.  Each player can choose one from a starting hand of two at the beginning of the game, but otherwise, these are taken when players play the Tribune card.  Since players have a larger choice of available cards if they are picking up more cards, and these Forum tiles can be quite powerful, this is another driver towards efficient use of Character cards.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy, Blue and Red  got going first.  Burgundy chose the Claudius Pompeius Forum tile (which gave him an extra opportunity to sell whenever he was playing the Prefect card); Blue chose Gaius Mercellus (who yielded an extra sestertii for every item she sold), and Red kept Titus Valerius (who enabled her to exchange any other commodity for salt when she played her Tribune card).  Burgundy went first and moved one of his colonists inland north-east settling in a brick producing city.  The close proximity of the two nearest brick sources meant that this made it very difficult for anyone else to get into brick production.  Consequently, when Blue went next, she headed north-east into Gallia, where there was wine and cloth to be had, and eventually brick, though that would take a few turns.  This left Red to head towards the sun in the south of Spain.

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

Blue started out with lots of cash, but no idea what to do with it, on the other hand, Burgundy knew exactly what he wanted to do but couldn’t find the money to do it.  Red and Blue were relatively unfamiliar with the game so opted for the scatter-gun approach, while Burgundy was picking up as many cards as he could.  Before long Red and Blue got away from the congestion of the Iberian peninsula, with Red taking over North Africa and Blue spreading to Corsica and Sardinia and across to the Amalfi Coast.  This race to place settlements eventually dried up when Red found more fun activating Africa to pick up lots of goods.  Since one of the end game triggers is a player running out of “houses”, Blue had to decide whether to end the game early by placing her last few “houses” or whether to try to push forward on other frontiers.  Something told her that she was too far behind in collecting cards, so she decided to take a break from building and try to maximise points elsewhere, starting by buying as many cards as she could and then getting all her colonists onto the board.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

With only a couple of cards left in the market, Blue placed her final houses and triggered the end of the game.  As suggested in the rules, we went through each of the Gods in turn, though with Burgundy’s enormous pile of cards, it all looked like it was going to be more a measure of how much he was going to win by.  As we added together the totals, every time Blue picked up points, Burgundy took more and Red languished at the back.  Before long, Burgundy had what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.  When Mercurius was scored Blue’s large number of settlements began to tell, and with a lot of Character cards devoted to Mars and all six colonists on the board, Blue finally took the lead.  With only Minerva to  go, Blue looked to have taken it, then we all realised how many Specialist cards Red had.  With all her high scoring Specialist cards and a lot of settlements in high value production cities (inc. lots of Salt which counted for each of them) it looked like she would take it the lead.  In that final scoring phase Red picked up a massive thirty-nine points, but sadly it wasn’t quite enough, and with Blue taking the extra seven points for placing all her settlements, she was the clear winner, though there was just four points between second and third place.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, on the next table, set-up and rules explanation took a little longer, but they were soon under way too.  Coincidentally, two of the Forum tiles chosen were the same –  Claudius Pompeius (chosen by Burgundy and Green which gave them an extra opportunity to sell goods) and Gaius Mercellus (chosen by Purple and Blue and which gave an extra sestertii for every item sold).  Black, on the other hand, took Appius Arcadius which gave him the ability to move three spaces instead of two – potentially very powerful, especially in the early part of the game.  Purple began followed by Black, leaving Green with a much more restricted choice, but gradually all three began their expansion across the board producing and trading as they went.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image by boardGOATS

In contrast to the game on the next table, the players used their Forum tile powers only rarely.  Green made good use of his bonus tile several times early in the game, but he used it much less later on, when having the goods was more important than having the money.  Purple used her bonus only a small number of times and Black did not use his bonus tile until almost the very end of the game, but then he used it to good effect to jump two spaces and build in a city that Green had his eye on.  The game was probably about two thirds through when Green moved his ship and, unintentionally he claims, blocked Purple.  And there he left it until the end of the game as his card collection action enabled him to buy a new ship which was much better placed to move efficiently to the other side of the board.

Concordia: Salsa
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Green took every opportunity to encourage his “Elvis-meeples” to leave the warehouse, but while Purple occasionally added colonists to the board, black persisted with only his starting two throughout the entire game.  Eventually, Green ended the game by buying the remaining character cards.  While Purple found she could do nothing in her final turn to increase her score, Black pulled a master stroke and used a special card to buy all four of his remaining colonists in one go, thus increasing each of his Mars scoring cards by eight, and since he had three of them this gave him a massive twenty-four points more from just one turn.  It wasn’t enough though; the scores were all close, but Green finished twenty-four points ahead of Black largely thanks to the fact that he’d managed to get a settlement in each region and had plenty of scoring cards to go with it.

ConcordiaSalsa005
– Image by boardGOATS

While Black, Purple and Green put everything away, Burgundy, Blue and Red began the inevitable discussion of the game.  We all enjoyed the game, but Concordia is probably one of Burgundy’s all-time favourites, as a result he has played it quite a bit.  There is no question that this familiarity helped when choosing which character cards to buy and when,.  This is unquestionably an advantage as it is clear that the only real strategy in the game is to try to match the Character cards to the cities and perhaps specialise in one direction.  That said, there are many ways that this can be done and in practice, it is really quite difficult to it do well.  Although for Blue theme is not the most important factor in a game, she feels it should be there to help players remember the rules.  In Concordia, however, Blue felt that the scoring was a little arbitrary making the game feel just a little bit abstract.  Red also enjoyed the game, but felt that the game was slow to get started and with such a beautiful map, it seemed a shame that it took so long before really exploring it.  On the whole though, we were all in agreement that it was a very good game that needed playing several times, and we were all very willing to give it another go soon.

Concordia
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes experience pays, sometimes less so.

Boardgames in the News: The Best Games Featuring Maps

The “Brilliant Maps” Blog recently listed what it considered “The 28 Best Map Based Strategy Board Games You’ve Probably Never Played“.  Leaving aside the fact that most dedicated gamers will have played many of them, how valid is this list?  On closer inspection it turns out that the list is really just the top twenty-eight games listed on BoardGameGeek.com (BGG) that happen to have a map for the board.  As such, it makes no subjective judgement on the quality of the map and is simply a list of the best games according to BoardGameGeek that feature a map.

Twilight Struggle
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor killy9999

For example, the game with the highest rating on BoardGameGeek.com is Twilight Struggle which is a Euro/war game hybrid and is therefore played on a map.  The map is not particularly picturesque, however, though for those old enough to remember, its spartan nature is strongly evocative of the Cold War setting.  Is it a great map though?  It certainly captures the theme of the game and perhaps, as such, it is indeed a great map.

Terra Mystica
– Image by BGG contributor Verkisto

Unsurprisingly, many of the games mentioned are war games.  There are a fair number of Euro games too though:  high on the list are Terra Mystica at number two, Brass at four and Power Grid at six.  Number ten on the list is Concordia and eleven is El Grande – a game that is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.  Further down are Tigris and Euphrates, Steam, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Carcassonne and finally, just sneaking onto the list, The Settlers of Catan (or Catan as we are now supposed to call it).  All these games indeed include maps of some description, but overwhelmingly, they are also all well-established “classic” games.  Are they the best maps though?

Amerigo
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Oceluna

There are some stunningly beautiful games that haven’t made the list, for example, Amerigo is played on a beautiful seascape and Lancaster includes a lovely map of the England.  How do we define “map-based game” however?  Clearly, a map is is a two-dimensional play space so that excludes games where the play-area is predominantly linear i.e. “a track”.  But what about games where the map is produced as the game is played?  If Carcassonne is considered a map game, other games where the board is built during the play should also be included, like Saboteur and Takenoko.  What about one of our favourite games at boardGOATS, Keyflower?  In this game, players buy tiles and then use them to build their own personal little village map.  Should this be included too?

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately, none of this really matters of course:  a game is a game and it all comes down to how much people enjoy playing it.  One thing is clear though, while a game can be good in spite of the rendering, playing with beautiful components can only enhance the boardgame experience.

Carcassonne
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Topdecker