Tag Archives: Connect 4

Boardgames in the News: Radio 2 and Online

Over the last few years there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence that modern boardgames are becoming less of a niche activity, with a large number of reports in local and national media.  Last month alone, there was a prime-time article on BBC Radio 2‘s flagship Breakfast Show, where Chris Evans interviewed Dicky Duerden, Head of Games at the Chance & Counters Games Cafe in Bristol.  The interview took place shortly before 9am (2hrs 13 mins into the show) and discussed classic games like Connect Four and Kerplunk as well as their most popular games, Scrabble and Jenga.

Chris Evans
– Image from bbc.co.uk

The interview included a couple of nice little anecdotes, for example, Dicky Duerden explained that Battleship began life as a French game called “L’Attack” and was renamed twice, changing to “Salvo”, then “Broadside” before finally becoming “Battleship”.  He was also asked whether they have problems with players having temper tantrums and whether people lose pieces or walk off with them.  Apparently, Chance & Counters has heavy unflippable tables with shelves to store the games and cup-holders to help prevent spillage.  So, the most damage they’ve had to a game was when someone stole all the marbles from Hungry Hungy Hippos—presumably the thief couldn’t stand the noise!

Hungry Hungry Hippos
– Image from medium.com

Modern boardgames have also featured in print and other media channels.  For example, the literary and cultural commentary magazine, The Atlantic, recently reported how U.S. sales of boardgames grew by twenty-eight percent between spring 2016 and spring 2017.  They put this increase down to the rise in popularity of card games like Cards Against Humanity, Secret Hitler, and Exploding Kittens as well as what they initially refer to as “hobby” boardgames.  Although the article is written from a US perspective, it includes a nice commentary from Phil Eklund, head of Sierra Madre Games and designer of Pax Porfiriana, Greenland and Bios: Megafauna amongst others.  The interview with Phil Eklund is excellent and well worth a read; it includes discussion of Essen and Spiel des Jahres as well as discussion of a wide range of games including Power Grid, Biblios and El Grande rather than just the usual Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride.

Biblios
– Image by BGG contributor Schaulustiger

Every report about the growth of modern boardgames hides something less cheerful:  the number of stores that have closed in recent time.  As demand for modern games increases, so does their availability at places like Amazon, and that increases the pressure on an already squeezed niche.  In the last year or so, several excellent and well established stores have closed including Shire Games and Northumbria Games.  With prices continuing to rise—a new big-box game is rarely below £50 these days—and the growth of crowd-funding, more and more gamers are looking for discounts where they can.  The boardGOATS are lucky to have three excellent outlets locally, Eclectic Games (in Reading), Thirsty Meeples and The Gameskeeper (both in Oxford).  Perhaps the Chris Evans interview will encourage more people to pay them a visit.

Money
– Adapted from Image by Petras Gagilas (flickr.com)

18th April 2017

Blue was the first to arrive, together with Pink on one of his rare visits.  The bar was busy, so they decided to get in a couple of quick rounds of Mijnlieff before ordering food.  This is a very simple “naughts and crosses“/Connect 4 type game, with the twist that each piece a player places restricts where their opponent can play.  Blue started out getting early revenge for the various defeats over the weekend, winning the first game four points to three.  Pink quickly leveled the score, however, taking the second game two points to one.  Since Black and Purple had arrived, they settled on a draw and decided to order food before beginning a quick game of …Aber Bitte mit Sahne (aka Piece o’ Cake).

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

…Aber Bitte mit Sahne is a very simple little game of “I divide, you choose”, with a side order of set collecting.  Played over five rounds, the “Master Baker” divides the eleven slices of the pie into pieces and each player takes it in turns to take a piece (leaving the Master Baker with whatever’s left).  As players take their share, they can choose to keep slices or eat slices:  eating a slice guarantees points (equal to the number of blobs of cream on top), while saving it gives the opportunity for more points if the player has the most of that type stored at the end of the game.  Blue started out collecting Chocolate cake which can be highly lucrative, but as there are more slices available can be tough to make pay.  Pine, on the other hand, played safe and opted for eating his Chocolate slices and tried to make Pea Pie (or was it Gooseberry?) and Blackberry pay.  Purple had other ideas though and competed for both just shutting Pine out of the Gooseberry, and finishing in a three way tie for the Blackberry pie with Blue (all three score in full).

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

It was a tight game with Black’s love of Strawberries, Purple’s Goose-goggs and Pine’s whipped cream fetish leaving them all within a point or so of each other.  Pink had also played safe and eaten amount of cake, but also kept his Cherry and Kiwi pies and scored both.  It wasn’t quite enough though, as Blue managed to keep her nose ahead in Chocolate and with Blackberry and Plum as well and some cream to top it off she finished with twenty-eight, four ahead of Pink in second.  With that over and the arrival of pizza (and Ivory) we had to decide what to do next.  Everyone was very keen to play the “Feature Game”, Power Grid, but although it would play six, we knew that would make it longer and it would perhaps be tight to finish in time.  Nobody was keen to play anything else though, so we decided to go for it with everyone’s agreement that we would have to keep it moving.

…Aber Bitte Mit Sahne
– Image by boardGOATS

Power Grid is a slightly older game that is now nearly fifteen years old and was itself built on the slightly older Funkenschlag.  So, it is something of a classic, but only Black had actually played it before.  Although it seems complex, the game is actually a fairly simple auction game where players are power moguls building power plants and trying to supply cities with juice.  At the start of each round, players bid for power plants which have different fuel requirements and supply different numbers of cities.  Players then fuel to power their cities before adding cities to their network.  Finally, players decide how many power plants they are going to activate and thus how many of the cities in their network they are going to supply, which dictates their income for the round.  The clever part that really takes a little bit of thinking to understand, is the market.  Each power plant up for auction has a different number from 01 to 50, with the higher numbers generally the more efficient plants.  The deck of power plant cards is shuffled and the top eight cards revealed.  These are then sorted with the four with the lowest number put out for auction and the others put in the reserve row.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

Once a plant has been bought, another card is revealed and, if it’s number is higher than the lowest card in the reserve, it goes into the reserve and the lowest is made available for auction, otherwise it goes straight into auction instead.  The reason this is clever is that it provides variety between games, while effectively preventing the extremely unbalanced case where one exceptionally efficient plant is won very early.  This is particularly important because each player can only win one auction per round, thus, the last player to bid could be bidding unopposed.  Getting an efficient plant cheaply is really quite key because money is tight and there is lots of demand for it.  Firstly, there’s fuel to power the plants:  the cost of fuel ebbs and flows depending on demand.  If there is a lot of demand, the price increases and, in the extreme case, especially if players are hoarding, it can become unavailable. If possible, it is best to find a niche in the market and buy/build power plants that use a different fuel-stock to everyone else because money is also needed to pay for the infrastructure to supply cities.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

This is another key part of the game:  Each player starts with a foothold in one city.  To extend their network, they need need to pay for the infrastructure within another city, but also the connections to it.  In the early part of the game, each city can only support one “power generator”, so positioning is key.  While it’s not possible to actually get cut off, if someone else has already built in all the adjacent cities, it is necessary to pay two (or more) connection fees as well as the city infrastructure fee.  Once at least one player has connected a given number of cities to their power network, the game enters the second phase and cities can support a second power generator.  Although players cannot build a second generator in a city they already supply, it does mean players can extent their network more easily. Buying a second generator in a city is more expensive than the first however, and later in the game when it becomes possible to buy a third, it is more expensive still.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

The end of the game is triggered when at least one player has connected a given number of cities (or more) in his network.  The final scoring is slightly unusual as the winner is the player who has sufficient resources and power plants to power the most of their connected networks.  Thus, if a player mistimes their ending and has run out of money to buy sufficient fuel they can squander a promising position.  We played with the deluxe edition of Power Grid, which has slightly updated graphics and a few minor rules tweaks as well as some nice wooden pieces to represent the fuel resources and generators.  A lot has been  written about the differences between the two versions, but the most obvious is probably the replacement of “rubbish” with natural gas, though the rule changes are actually more significant, though they are small.  The deluxe edition comes with a double sided board, Europe and USA, and there are slight variations in the rules for each.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

Our first decision, therefore, was which map to use.  Since the rules suggest USA is easier for beginners, despite a general preference for Europe (as Europeans), the shortage of time meant we decided to start there.  We then had to choose which areas to use, so we went for the central five, missing out the mid-Atlantic states and the north western states (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington).  Random draw put Blue first, followed by Ivory, but as Black pointed out, going first is not necessarily an advantage.  It meant that Blue had the opportunity to choose which power plant should be auctioned first, and might get it cheap if nobody else fancied a punt.  On the other hand, if there was nothing she fancied, she might get landed with something less popular with the chance that something better might be drawn to replace it.  Worse, losing means having to have another try, while going last means the there is no-one left to compete and any power plant can be bought at the minimum price.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

Since we were using the USA map, there was a slight modification where a discount token was placed on the smallest power plant  before the auction to signal that the minimum bid for this plant is reduced to one Elektro (independent of the actual number of the power plant).  This is supposed to help prevent players over-bidding for rubbish.  There was worse to come for Blue and Ivory though, as buying resources and choosing starting cities for networks are done in reverse player order, making them last and making the resources most expensive and the ensuring the most flexible places had already gone.  Black began in the deep south while Pine and Pink began building his network in the mid-west.  With Purple beginning in Las Vegas and Ivory starting in Columbus, Blue had very little space to move so she decided to go for the only double city available – Mexico City.  For the most part, we managed to keep the game moving, and if anyone stopped to think for too long, everyone reminded them that the clock was ticking.  Although Blue was able to make a quick start, despite being the sole user of uranium, she quickly began to struggle and gradually slid down the ranking.  Meanwhile, Ivory, who found himself with a nice un-congested corner to work began to pull ahead.

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

As play continued, Pine spread into Tennessee and Purple began something of a monopoly along the western seaboard.  Black and Ivory discovered the value of wind power, while everyone else was trying to work with coal and gas fired power stations (Pine’s gas is famous apparently – well, he is a vegetarian!).  As time ticked towards pumpkin o’clock, the game progressed into the final stages and we finally allowed people a little extra thinking time.  Ivory eventually triggered the end of the game when he added his fourteenth city to his network.  He could see the writing on the wall, but try as he might, Ivory was not able to stop Black taking a clear lead with fifteen cities.  This only left the question as to how many people were able to provide all their cities with power.  In the event, everybody was able to serve their entire network, which left Black in first place, one ahead of Ivory and three ahead of Pine (who’s gas obviously wasn’t all it was cracked up to be).  There was just time to take a quick snap of Black’s Glorious Win before we packed it away, discussing the game as we did so.  On reflection, we decided that although Black had a nice mix of powerful power sources, it was number 36 that was probably made the difference as it served five cities and, as it was green, there was no running cost.  Nobody will let him get that cheaply again!

Power Grid Deluxe: Europe/North America
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Pine’s gas is powerful, but wind is better for the environment…

Game Plan: Rediscovering Boardgames at the V & A Museum of Childhood

Inspired by the recent articles on Saturday Live and the Today Programme, on Easter Sunday, Pink and Blue decided to visit the V & A Museum of Childhood to see their “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition.  Catching a train from Oxford Parkway and negotiating the London Underground, they arrived in Bethnal Green.  With its vaulted ceiling and exposed metal work, the Museum building looks for all the world like a re-purposed Victorian Civil building, a train station, swimming pool or maybe some sort of pumping station.  Much to their disappointment, however, after extensive discussion and investigation, it turned out that the building was designed for the purpose, albeit after relocation of parts from “Albertopolis” on Exhibition Road.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The exhibition itself was well presented and occupied a sizeable portion of the overall floor space.  Although it was located in one of the upstairs galleries, the exhibition was well advertised and, from entering the main hall, games were brought to the visitors’ attention with table space and signs offering the loan of games should people want to play.  It wasn’t an idle promise either, as there were several family groups making full use of the opportunity, albeit playing what might be called classic games rather than more modern, Euro games.

Senet
– Image by boardGOATS

A quick look at the model train cabinet and brief spell side-tracked by one or two other exciting toys preceded entry to the exhibition which was shrouded by an eye-catching red screen.  The first exhibit was a copy of Senet, arguably one of the oldest games in the world – so old in fact that we’ve lost the rules and nobody knows how to play it.  This was followed by some traditional games including a beautiful wooden Backgammon set made in Germany in 1685 and decorated with sea monsters and a lot of fascinating Chess sets, old and new.  Next, there were some ancient copies of Pachisi (which evolved into Ludo) and Snakes and Ladders, both games that originated in India and were originally played seriously by adults.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Further round there were many other curious games, for example, The Noble Game of Swan from 1821, which was an educational game for children, itself developed from the much older, Game of the Goose.  Education was a bit of theme and there were a lot of games from the nineteenth and early twentieth century designed to teach geography in some form or another.  These included Round the Town, a game where players had to try to cross London via Charing Cross, and Coronation Scot, a game based on travelling from Glasgow to London inspired by the eponymous 1937 express train made to mark the coronation of George VI.

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

Education didn’t stop there either:  for those that had been members of RoSPA‘s “Tufty Club“, there was a game promoting road safety featuring Tufty the Squirrel and his mates Minnie Mole and the naughty Willy Weasel.  However, when designing this roll-and-move game, they clearly ran out of imaginative “adventures” with a road safety message, as they had to resort to “Picking and eating strange berries – Go back three spaces…”

Tufty Road Safety Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Progressing through the late twentieth century, there were the inevitable copies of the childhood classic games, including Game of Life, Risk, Cluedo, Mouse Trap, Trivial Pursuit, Connect 4, Scrabble and the inevitable Monopoly, all of which risked bringing a tear to the eye as visitors remembered playing them as children.  The exhibition eventually brought us up to date with modern Euro-style games, presenting copies of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan.

Pandemic
– Image by boardGOATS

More interestingly, there was also an original prototype of Pandemic supplied by the designer, Matt Leacock, complete with his scribbles and bits of paper stuck over infection routes he decided to remove as the game developed.  One of the final display showed how the influence boardgames have had on the computer gaming industry is sometimes strangely reciprocated, with a copy of the Pac-Man game, including the title figure wrought in sunshine yellow plastic.

Pac Man
– Image by boardGOATS

Leaving the exhibition, there was just one last game – “What’s Your Gameface?“.  This cute flow chart entertained Blue and Pink for far longer than is should have as they tested it out with all their friends, relatives and fellow gamers (nobody came out as “Cheater”).

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

With the exhibition done, there was still time for a wander round the rest of the museum and a quick cuppa in the cafe.  Reflecting on the exhibition, perhaps one of the best aspects had actually been the quotations that adorned the walls.  It seems luminaries from Plato to Roald Dahl have all had something to say on the subject of games.  Perhaps George Bernard Shaw supplied the most thought provoking comment though, when he said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  With this in mind, we did what gamers do when they travel, so tea and cake was accompanied by two rounds of Mijnlieff, the super-cool noughts and crosses game.  With the museum closing, it was time to head home, but there was still time for a game or two of 3 Sind Eine Zu Viel! on the train back to Oxford…

Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered
– Image by boardGOATS

The Exhibition is only open till 23rd April 2017, so there isn’t much time left and it is well worth a visit.

Boardgames in the News: What’s all this about a Hasbro-Mattel Merger?

In what is the latest of a long line of merger and acquisitions stories, it seems that the really big boys are now getting in on the act:  according to a report by Bloomberg, late last year, Hasbro initiated talks with Mattel for what would become the worlds largest toy company. This is not the first time a merger has been proposed; twenty years ago, Mattel attempted to buy Hasbro for $5.2 billion, but Hasbro resisted the deal with what Mattel described as a “scorched earth” campaign.  In the end, Mattel withdrew the offer citing an “intolerable climate” created by its competitor’s use of the media and politicians to fight the proposed takeover. Since then, there has been a lot of water under the bridge and representatives for Hasbro and Mattel have declined to comment, so we are left to speculate as to why the subject of a possible merger has arisen once more.

Hasbro & Mattel
– Image by boardGOATS with components from wikipedia.org

Both Hasbro and Mattel are currently valued at approximately $10 billion with an annual revenue in the region of $5 billion.  Hasbro owns brands as divers as Furby, My Little Pony, Playdoh and Nerf, but is perhaps best known amongst gamers for titles like Monopoly, Cluedo, Connect 4, Cranium, Battleship and Jenga.  Mattel brands perhaps tend to be aimed slightly more at the toy market with Barbie, Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Fisher-Price some of their biggest sellers.  There are also a number of games under the Mattel umbrella though, including UNO, Othello, Scene It?, Apples to Apples and Scrabble.  Clearly, both companies have a very similar portfolio, and are essentially direct competitors.  This has been very clearly demonstrated with Hasbro recently taking the licensing rights to Disney’s lucrative Frozen and Princess brands from Mattel, a change that will undoubtedly make a dent in their bottom line.  While changes are often a sign of a robust market, such seismic shifts are seldom good for the companies involved at least in the short term, often leading to restructuring and job losses – we have seen something similar with Mayfair Games and the recent loss of the distribution rights to the Catan Brand.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

It seems there are two other key driving forces however.  Firstly, it would make them much stronger competition for the Danish company, Lego, which has been growing much faster than its U.S. rivals.  Secondly, both Hasbro and Mattel are looking to expand their presence in the digital market, with movie and computer game tie-ins similar to those seen with Hasbro’s Transformers franchise, and, according to Bloomberg, a merger would facilitate this.  The real question though is, regardless of whether or not Hasbro and Mattel can agree a deal, would the regulators let it happen?  In the last year alone, the U.S. Department of Justice has prevented Electrolux’s purchase of GE’s appliance business as well as stopping mergers between Office Depot and Staples, and Sysco and U.S. Foods, all due to concerns about industry concentration and the potential for higher prices resulting from the deals.  So it seems quite likely that a deal between Hasbro and Mattel would go the same way.  If they do merge, however, the giant Hasbro-Mattel would make Asmodee look like very small minnows indeed, right up until they get gobbled up too.

Lego
– Image from 3dprint.com

Boardgames in the News: Thirsty Meeples on Radio 2

The growing interest in boardgames continues with an item on the Chris Evans Breakfast show on Radio 2 featuring Simon Read from Thirsty Meeples (starts at 1:47:30).  Sara Cox was sitting in for Chris Evans and conducted the short telephone interview discussing the Oxford games Cafe.  Unfortunately she was a bit obsessed with “classics” like Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo, Connect 4 and Mouse Trap.  Simon did his best to talk about Survive:  Escape from Atlantis! and The Settlers of Catan, but in truth, while it was a nice little bit of advertising for the Thirsty Meeple, Sara was too determined to move onto Cold Play…

Sara Cox
– Image from bbc.co.uk