Tag Archives: Cosmic Encounter

Boardgames in the News: Another Year, Another Take-Over

For many, Asmodée is the boardgame equivalent of the Borg, so it should be no surprise that the New Year brings yet another Asmodée take-over story.  This time the targets are the German publisher and distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag, the French/Spanish company Edge Entertainment, and the Spanish distributor Millennium.  Heidelberger are the German production partner for many companies that are better known in the UK including Fantasy Flight Games, Czech Games Edition, Iello, Indie Boards & Cards and Ferti; they specialise in fantasy, science fiction and horror Games as well as being the distributor for Alea Spiele in Germany.  Edge performs a similar function within the French and Spanish games markets while Millennium is primarily a distributor, but has also produced French versions Citadels and Sutter’s Mill.  The connection between them is that they were all foreign language partners for Fantasy Flight Games who were bought by Asmodée two and a half years ago.  So, these acquisitions give Asmodée complete control of brands like Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game, Android: Netrunner, Cosmic Encounter and Arkham Horror.

Asmodee Partners
– Image from asmodee.de

The list of Asmodée’s “partners” is extensive, so the question is, who will be next?

29th December 2015

The pub was very busy, and with one chef down with the lurgy (which had got four of us as well), food was delayed. So, unusually, we started off with a quick game. Expecting more people, we decided to play something short, and opted for Qwixx. This game was designed by Steffen Bendorf who also designed The Game (which has been popular with the group this year) and was nominated for Spiel des Jahres in 2013. So, it has a good pedigree, however, when it was nominated there were a lot of comments about its suitability and eventually, it was beaten by Hanabi, which most people agreed was a better game. We finally got the chance to give it a go in October and generally felt that although the rules made for a promising sounding filler, the resulting game was disappointing. Given how some people continue rave about it though, we’d were keen to give it another try and see if we’d been mistaken.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Qwixx is a very simple game: each player has a score card displaying the numbers two to twelve in the four different colours, red and yellow ascending and blue and green ascending.  On their turn, the active player rolls six dice, two white, and one of each of the colours, red, blue, green and yellow.  Every player may cross out the number corresponding to the sum of the white dice. The active player may then also cross out a coloured number corresponding to the sum of one white die and one matching coloured die. If the active player cannot or chooses not to cross off a number, then they must tick a penalty box, which costs them five points at the end of the game. The snag is that although numbers can be skipped, they must be crossed off in order, red and yellow ascending, blue and green descending.

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

Points are scored for the number of each colour crossed out and penalties subtracted; the game ends when one player has picked up four penalties, or players have crossed off the last number for two colours locking them for everyone. Scarlet, an experienced local gamer who is usually unavailable on Tuesday evenings, commented that it was a bit like Yahtzee, but with slightly more decisions to make. This didn’t further endear the game to Blue, who has bad memories of playing Yahtzee as a child. Scarlet did manage to demonstrate a modicum of strategy when he chose to cross off a sixth red number rather than his first green number since that would give more points at the end. His discovery clearly gave him a bit of an edge as he took second place, eight behind Burgundy who won with eighty.  We had a bit of discussion about what strategy there was, but it was not really enough to rescue the game in anyone’s eyes and it now faces donation to a worthy cause.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, Grey and Cerise had arrived and seeing everyone else engaged decided to play a quick game of Hey, That’s My Fish!. This is a cute little abstract with a penguin theme, and, in common with games like Carcassonne, although it plays more, in many ways, it is at its best as a two player game when it is most vicious. The game is played on a grid of hexagonal tiles, with each player starting with four penguin figurines which players take it in turns to move in straight lines across the tiles. When a penguin is moved, the active player gets the tile it was sitting on, leaving a gap that cannot be crossed. Thus, the ice flow progressively melts away trapping the penguins in increasingly smaller spaces.

Hey, That's My Fish!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

A number of fish is depicted on each tile, and the player with the most fish at the end of the game, i.e. when there are no more valid moves, is the winner. This is just the sort of game that Grey likes, deliciously savage with plenty of opportunity to go for the jugular and for a while he had Cerise under the cosh. Her delight at the end was obvious though when the final reckoning put her four fish clear.  With food imminent for those who hadn’t yet eaten, and Green expected, we decided to split the group and start the “Feature Game”, Broom Service.  This game uses the role selection mechanic from Witch’s Brew (a game we played a few weeks ago), but adds much more with a board and a delivery mechanic.  Witch’s Brew was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2008, but was beaten by Keltis (a boardgame equivalent of the popular two player card game Lost Cities), but its reincarnation, Broom Service, won the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Like Witch’s Brew, players start with a hand of character cards from which they simultaneously choose a subset in secret. The start player then chooses a card and announces they are that character declaring they are either “brave” or “cowardly”. The other players then must follow suit if they hold that card. If a player is cowardly they take a lesser reward immediately, but if they are brave, they must wait until the end of the round to see if they get a reward. Once everyone has declared their position, the last brave player takes a greater prize and anyone who was brave earlier in the round gets nothing.  The character cards come in three types, Gatherers (who provide ingredients), Witches (who allow players to travel to an adjacent region) and Druids (who deliver potions to the towers). There is also the Weather Fairy who charms away clouds using magic wands.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The rules are modified by event cards that are revealed at the start of the round, and with less than five players, the game is also made tighter by the inclusion of “bewitched” roles (cue Burgundy and Pink demonstrating how to wiggle-twitch their noses like Tabitha). The game is considerably more complex than the cute theme and artwork imply. Compared with Witch’s Brew, there are also a number of small rules that it is difficult to remember at the start, though they are in keeping with the theme.  The game ends after eight rounds, and, although points are awarded for delivering potions during the game, there are extra points for weather clouds and sets of potions collected.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Grey quickly got his nose in front delivering potions early, but Scarlet and and Cerise followed suit and kept the points difference down. It didn’t last however, and before long, Grey had moved his witches away from everyone else’s into the south-east corner of the board where he was able to score heavily without competition.  Despite Cerise’s best efforts with the Weather Fairy and Scarlet’s set collecting, Grey had an unassailable lead and finished nearly thirty points clear with ninety-three points. Second place was much closer, however, Scarlet taking it by just two points from Cerise.

Broom Service
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, once the matter of food had been dealt with, Blue, Pink and Burgundy were debating what to play. It had been narrowed down to Snow Tails or Snowdonia (with Pink requesting an expansion to add interest), when Green appeared, newly arrived from visiting relations over Christmas. He was keen to play Snowdonia, so that sealed the deal, with the Jungfraubahn expansion added as a sweetener.

Snowdonia
– Image by BGG contributor duchamp

The base game is not that complex and we’ve played it a few times, however, it is one of those games that somehow everyone struggles to remember how it works. With both Burgundy and Blue suffering with Seasonal Lurgy, adding the expansion was always going to make things more complicated too.  The idea is that players take it in turns to place their workers in the seven possible actions, which are then activated in order. These actions include, visiting the stockyard; converting iron ore into iron bars; digging to remove rubble from the track-bed; laying track; building part of a station; taking contract cards; and surveying the route.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor aleacarv

There are two twists: the weather and the game. The stockyard is refilled from a bag, and there are small number of white cubes in the bag which, when drawn cause the game to play itself. This mechanism came about because the designer dislikes players who hoard resources, so in this game, if people don’t keep things moving, the likelihood of white cubes coming out increases and the game moves along on its own. The other interesting mechanism is the weather which increases and decreases the digging and track laying rate making players’ timing key.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Green, Pink, Blue and Burgundy were still setting out the game and trying to work out what modifications the Jungfraubahn expansion made, when Broom Service finished, so Grey, Cerise and Scarlet played a quick game of Cosmic Encounter. This is a game they were all familiar with, though we’ve not played it on a Tuesday night before.  The game is reasonably straight forward, with each player leading an alien race trying to establish colonies on other players’ planets with the winner the first player to have five colonies on planets outside their home system.

Cosmic Encounter
– Image by BGG contributor RRunner

On their turn, The active player becomes “The Offense”. The Offense encounters another player on a planet by moving a group of his or her ships through the hyperspace gate to that planet. They draw cards from the destiny deck which contains colors, wilds and specials. The Offense then takes the hyperspace gate and points at one planet in the system indicated by the drawn destiny card. The Offense and The Defense both commit ships to the encounter and both sides are able to invite allies, play an encounter card as well as special cards to try and tip the encounter in their favour.  The game was close with lots of too-ing and fro-ing, but Cerise was the one to finally successfully establish five colonies, with Grey and Scarlet finishing with four and three colonies respectively.

Cosmic Encounter
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

By this time, the other group had finally sussed out what they were doing and had got under way with Snowdonia.  The Jungfraubahn expansion changes the game quite considerably replacing fog with snow which adds rubble to the track that must be cleared again before track can be built.  It also introduces dynamite which can be used to remove large amounts of rubble as well as being used to initially clear a route through the mountains before the track-bed is prepared. Added to these, the new contract cards, seemed to introduce even more bad weather than “north-wet” Wales!

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Blue and Burgundy were both a bit slow off the mark and struggled to really get going. In contrast, Green quickly picked up an engine and Pink got a couple of valuable contract cards. With Grey and Cerise leaving, Scarlet was left as an interested spectator. Eventually, Blue and Burgundy got going, but it was a bit of a rear-guard action.  With the expansion, the game was taking slightly longer than expected, so Green, decided to take the opportunity to play Scarlet as a substitute and went home leaving the rest to finish the game without him. He had set out his plan and Scarlet did an excellent job executing it, however, Pink just had the edge.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ansi

Green/Scarlet took a massive seventy-nine points in bonuses and with twenty-nine points for station building together with the maximum for his surveyor, they finished with one hundred and twenty-two.  The break down for Pink was nearly completely reversed with him taking seventy-eight points for station building and nearly sixty more in bonuses, giving a total of one hundred and thirty-eight, and the game.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Learning outcome: Lurgy does not improve gaming ability.

20th October 2015

While Burgundy, Magenta and Blue waited for their supper to arrive, they began a quick game of Bellz!, the “Feature Game”.  This is a very simple manual dexterity game, albeit one that is very well presented.  The pouch opens out to form a soft bowl containing bells in four different colours.  Each colour includes bells in three different sizes; the aim of the game is to be the first person to have picked up all the bells of just one colour using the stick which has a magnet in each end.  On a player’s turn they can pick up multiple bells or chicken out and stop at one, but if they pick up any bells that don’t match the colour of those they have already collected then that turn is forfeit.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

It is certainly more difficult than it looks and there is a little bit in the way of tactics as the magnetism gets weaker further away so with skill it is possible to daisy chain bells and only pick up certain bells.  There is also a strong magnet one one end of the “wand” and a weaker one on the other.  Th rules are not completely clear (and are completely in German in any case!), and gamers inevitably ask whether the bowl can be moved and how much shaking is allowed, which were things we house-ruled.  We had had about two turns each when Green arrived and joined in.  Food arrived and we were still struggling so we carried on as we ate.  Burgundy ran out the eventual winner with Blue following close behind leaving Magenta and Green to fight it out for the last bell.  Grey and Cerise promptly turned up and, as it is an eye-catching game, also had a go with Cerise taking the honours.

Bellz!
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

This was followed by a discussion of the Essen game fair including some of the games seen and purchased by Blue and Pink.  By far the majority of the toys they picked up were expansions for games we’ve played before including:

Colt Express: Horses & Stagecoach
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor sdetavern

There were several new games too though, in particular:

There were also older games, some of which we’ve been interested in for a long time.  For example Rockwell was a big game at Essen two years ago, and Green and Blue have expressed an interest in both at the time and since.  Somehow either the price wasn’t right or it wasn’t available at the right time, until now when a good deal beckoned. Blue and Pink picked up a number of small games as well.  These are often hard to get hold of except at places like Essen and are sometimes a hit, and sometimes not so popular, but as they are relatively inexpensive and take up little space in the luggage, they are what makes the fair special.  Finally, there were the promotional items, extra copies of which Blue handed round.

Rockwell!
– Image by BGG contributor Rayreviewsgames

Eventually we decided it was time for a game, and with six the decision is always whether to split into two groups or not.  Green suggested Eketorp for six, but Blue really wasn’t keen, so eventually we opted for Codenames, a new social deduction team game based on the meanings of words which had received a lot of good reports before Essen.  Green pulled a face at the idea of “a word game” and Burgundy commented that social games were not really his thing, even Blue who bought it wasn’t terribly keen because it had sounded un-promising when she read the rules.  Cerise was almost enthusiastic though and Magenta pointed out that it shouldn’t take long, so we gave it a go.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The idea is that there is a grid of twelve cards and the players split into two teams, with even numbers of male and female, we did the childish thing and played boys vs. girls.  The leader of each team is the Spymaster, and as Grey had popped out for a second, we volunteered him to be one so it was natural that Cerise should be the other.  The Spymasters’ job is to get their team to reveal the cards/words that correspond to their team of “agents”, by giving clues.  The clue must be a single word followed by a number which reflects how many words are indicated by that clue.  For example, the clue, “trees: three” could be used to indicate the words “oak”, “ash” and “elm”.  Members of the team then touch cards that they think are their agents; they must indicate at least one, but may try up to one more than the number in the clue.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor aleacarv

The Girls started off badly finding a neutral and the Boys started off well quickly getting a three card lead.  Before long, the Boys started to get a bit stuck with movie clues and the Girls began to catch up.  As Magenta pointed out afterwards, it was important to listen to both the clues and the discussion of the other team as you can get extra clues.  And so it proved in the end.  With the teams tied, the clue was “Regents; two”.  Blue and Magenta misheard and thought Cerise had said “Regions”.  The Boys struggled on their turn too though, and suddenly the Girls had another chance.  When Green had repeated Cerise’s clue during the Boys’ discussion, Blue had suddenly realised the Girls’ mistake and they were able to find “Park” and close out the game.  Although it is not really our sort of game, everyone was very complimentary about it and as a group we enjoyed it much more than we thought we would.  We could all think of people who would like playing it and now that we know how it works, it would be much quicker to play next time too, making it a surprisingly fun filler with the right group.

Codenames
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

With that done, we had to decide what to to play next and, with too many for Cosmic Encounter, inevitably Eketorp was raised again.  Grey was very enthusiastic, but Blue really wasn’t keen, especially as it can drag with six players.  Much to Blue’s delight and eternal gratitude, Magenta tactfully suggested that, despite being a Viking, she could play something else with Blue and Burgundy.  With that, Green happily started explaining the rules.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Ceryon

Eketorp is a game where players attempt to gather resources to build their Viking stronghold on the Swedish island of Öland.  In this game players try to second guess which resources the others don’t choose, with a battle and a potential extended stay in the hospital as the reward for failure.  The game itself is played in several rounds.  First material is distributed across the board according to the card revealed at the start of the round.  The players then decide, in secret (behind their player screens), which areas to send their Vikings to.  Vikings can either go to one of the seven resource or brick areas, reinforce the defence of their own village, or attack one of the other players’ villages.   Players then reveal their choices  and place their Vikings on the central board.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

Depending on how the various Vikings meet, peace may be preserved or battles may ensue.  Vikings on a material field live in peace if there are sufficient building bricks, i.e. there is the same number of building bricks (or more) than there are Vikings wanting them.  If there are insufficient bricks available, then there will be a battle.  Battles also take place on a siege field in front of a player’s castle for the right to lay siege if several Vikings are positioned there.  Battles always take place in a particular order. Firstly, the starting player engages in a battle, then everyone else takes turns until all battles and sieges have been resolved.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor helioa

Battles are fought using cards chosen from a starting hand of four.  Each player choses a card in secret and then they reveal them simultaneously with the highest card winning.  The difference in value between the two cards determines the battle difference which indicates which area of the hospital the loser ends up in.  In the case of a tie, both parties go to the hospital.  The clever bit is that once a battle has been fought, players swap cards and place the new card face down in front of them.  Once a player has played all their cards in battles, they take the cards in front of them to form a new hand.  In this way, the game is self-balancing so that a player who has a bad card draw at the start will have a better hand later in the game and vice versa.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor cuazzel

If village siege is successful, then the attacker gets to pillage bricks from the village wall.  Bricks may only be taken from the walls that are two bricks high and the  total point value of the bricks taken may not exceed the battle difference.  Bricks can only be removed from top to bottom and the attacker can then take one of these bricks home (with the remainder going back into the reserve).  Once all battles have been resolved all the winning Vikings can take their bricks home and add them to their village wall.  Each wall comes in six parts and a maximum of three bricks can be stacked in each giving a maximum of eighteen in total.  Once a brick has been used, it cannot be moved at a later date.  The bricks are nominally made of different material and are worth different amounts at the end of the game (green, or grass is worth one whereas grey or stone is worth four for example).  The end of the game is triggered when one player reaches the maximum of eighteen bricks.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

At the start, with no village walls to attack or defend, and all Vikings fit and healthy, the central resource pools were particularly busy places.  After many attacks and counter attacks, eventually all were either victorious and claimed resources, or were licking their wounds in differing levels of the Viking hospital (talk about a beds crisis!).  Green took the early lead at this point. Round two was much quieter, with less than half the Vikings available to go brick hunting, so everyone was relatively successful with their choices.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor DrGrayrock

Over the course of the next couple of rounds, the game board became more crowded and there was even the odd cheeky raid on a village.  By this time, Grey had managed to create a nice evenly built village wall, one or two bricks high made up of both grass and wooden bricks (worth one and two points respectively) – easy pickings in a fight, but less threatening too. Green was a bit lopsided, concentrating on building with a range of brick colours mostly on one side in order to limit the attack directions.  Cerise however had quietly managed to built quite a good wall round a large part of her village with a lot of clay and stone bricks (worth three and four points).  So, the next two rounds were characterised mostly by Grey and Green attacking for Cerise’s wall.  The first attack by Green was successful, but only enough to nab the top green brick, hardly a dent at all and netted only one point.  Grey’s attack was a stalemate.

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Garry

In the final round, Cerise found herself surrounded on all sides with Green and Grey attacked from one side each.  Again only Grey was successful enough to break down part of the wall though.  Then for the final battle of the game, Grey and Green had to go head to head for the right to attack Cerise from the third side – it was a draw and Cerise was safe!  As Cerise was the only one who had managed to build a wall at least three high all the way round she picked up the five point bonus and proved herself the superior Viking with a score of forty-four leaving Green and Grey some way behind, fighting it out for the wooden spoon.  In the end, Grey decided he didn’t like the game after all, because had Cerise beat him!

Eketorp
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor
Capitaine Grappin

Meanwhile Blue, Burgundy and Magenta conducted a brief audit of the games available and Burgundy’s eyes lit up at the idea of trying out the new Ticket to Ride Map Collection as he had played a lot of Ticket to Ride and prided himself on being quite good at it.  Magenta is also no slouch either however, and was also keen as she had won her last three games of Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Similarly, Blue has slightly unjustly acquired a reputation for beating people at Ticket to Ride, and although she hadn’t played it much recently, she had won her demonstration game at Essen and had enjoyed it too, so was very happy to give it another try.  Although everyone was keen to try the UK map, to avoid giving Blue an unfair advantage, the Pennsylvania side was chosen.

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

The basic Ticket to Ride game is really very simple.  On their turn the active player can do one of three things:  pick up two coloured train cards from the face up display or the face down draw deck; place plastic trains on the map using cards to pay and scoring points; or draw ticket cards, which name two places and give points at the end of the game if the player has built a route between them, but score negatively if not completed.  From there, each different version makes small changes to the rules, for example, some editions include tunnels and/or ferries and sometimes there are extra cards or bonus points etc..  So, the first problem was trying to remember which of the specific rules are applicable to the base game and then integrate them with the new rules for the Pennsylvania map.  In particular, this was whether we should be using the double routes and how many points the different routes should be worth since there was no score table.  Eventually, we decided to use single tracks (ala three player Ticket to Ride: Europe) and scored routes as follows:

  • Single car:  One point
  • Two cars:  Two points
  • Three cars:  Four points
  • Four cars:  Seven points
  • Five cars:  Ten points
  • Six cars:  Fifteen points
  • Seven cars:  Twenty-one points

The seven car route from Cumberland to Baltimore engendered a lot of discussion, as there aren’t any routes of that length in Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Burgundy was fairly sure they were worth eighteen points in Märklin, but the increase in points from six to seven cars seemed very uneven compared with the change from five to six cars.  In the event, it didn’t make much difference, but checking the rules online later confirmed that Burgundy was right and it should have been eighteen.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy was quite pleased with his starting tickets getting three east-west routes that he thought could largely be coincidental.  His delight faded to despair, when in the first turn, Blue took the route from Altoona to Johnstown and quickly followed it by adding the Altoona to Dubois, in quickly completely scuppering his plans.  Magenta was equally unimpressed that double routes were not in use when Burgundy and Blue quickly completed all the connections to Johnstown rendering one of her tickets impossible within the first few turns.  From there, the game quickly descended into a knife-fight in a phone box with everyone scrabbling to make their starting tickets and it looking very much like nobody was going to succeed.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

As Burgundy pointed out though, tickets were not going to be so important in this game as there were a lot of points available from the Shares.  This is a new feature specific to this map.  The idea of these is that most routes also have one or more company logos shown next to them on the map.  When these routes are completed, players choose which company they would like to take a share certificate for.  The companies are different sizes with some companies having a lot of certificates available while smaller company others have fewer.  At the end of the game, each player’s stock holdings are evaluated and points awarded.  The bigger companies are worth more points, however, it is harder to get the majority stake in these.  In the case of a tie, the share certificates are numbered and the points go to the person with the one taken first.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

The shares certainly did have a massive impact on game play.  Normally in Ticket to Ride, players achieve their first routes and then start picking up tickets, trying to maximise the number of longer routes as these give the best points return for the cards and trains, but, that wasn’t how this game went.  Although Blue bravely picked up some more tickets and was promptly followed by everyone else, this was the only time anyone did this as everyone got in everyone else’s way so much it was just too risky.  Since achieving tickets was proving so challenging, everyone started trying to pick up share certificates which meant building small routes as these were the cheapest and easiest way to get them.  Then suddenly, Burgundy declared he was out of trains and the game came to a quick end which only left the scoring.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

Although Burgundy had moaned about how badly he had done, neither Magenta nor Blue realised just how badly until it came to scoring tickets.  It’s true that the first ticket scored him ten points, but all the others were incomplete losing him nearly all the points he had accrued from placing trains.  Magenta also had a ticket she had failed to achieve, but it hadn’t cost her nearly so dearly.  Blue on the other hand had somehow managed to make all her connections and therefore also picked up an extra fifteen points for the Globe Trotter Bonus.  Unfortunately for Burgundy, although he had done well on the shares, the horror-show that had been the tickets had put him right out of contention and he was nearly lapped (though not quite!).  Although Magenta had shares in more companies, the combination of the extra tickets and the fact that Blue had managed to hang on to the majority in a couple of the larger companies made the difference.  Blue finished on one hundred and ninety eight, just over thirty points ahead of Magenta in what was a very tough game.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 5 – United Kingdom & Pennsylvania
– Image by boardGOATS

With Grey and Cerise gone, that left us with time for a quick filler to finish.  11 Nimmt! and Deep Sea Adventure were both in the frame, but Green liked the sound of Qwixx, which had been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2013, but was beaten by Hanabi.  The game sounded interesting though there was very little to it.  On their turn, the active player rolls six dice, four coloured and two white.  Each player has a score sheet with four tracks:  the red and yellow tracks go from two to twelve and the blue and green tracks go from twelve to two.  Once the dice have been rolled, all the players may cross off a number of any colour that corresponds to the sum of the white dice, if they choose.  The active player may additionally cross off one number corresponding to the sum of one of the coloured dice and one of the white dice.  They can choose which of the white dice they are going to use, but the die colour must match the colour of the track.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

The snag is that players must progressively cross off numbers to the right, i.e. once they have crossed out the red five for example, they cannot go back and cross out the red four.  Also, while all the other players can freely choose whether or not to use the white dice, the active player must cross out something on their turn or take a penalty (minus five at the end of the game).  Finally, if someone wants to cross out the last number on any track (twelve for red and yellow, two for green and blue), they must first have crossed out at least five other numbers on that track, at which point the die corresponding to that colour is locked and the colour is closed for all players.  The game ends when two dice have been removed from the game or when one player has accrued four penalties.  Scores are awarded for the number of crosses in each row according to the triangular number sequence also used in Coloretto (one, three, six, ten, fifteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight, etc.), so every additional cross is worth an ever increasing amount.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game started with everyone being very cagey and not taking the option of scoring the white dice as they were too high, but eventually, some people were braver than others and different patterns began to emerge.  Initially, the game looked very promising with the potential interplay between different effects, like the probability distribution for two dice, balancing the high scoring potential with not getting stuck and picking up penalty points.  Blue was even wondering whether it would be necessary to get another scoring pad.  However, being gamers, we all played to a very similar strategy and, before long, the inevitable happened, with everyone stuck waiting for the most unlikely dice rolls (two and twelve).  As a result, Burgundy who got there first started picking up penalties closely followed by Green.  The game ended when Burgundy picked up his fourth penalty point and we added up the scores.  Magenta, who had only taken the one penalty finished five points ahead of Blue with Burgundy and Green nearly twenty points behind thanks to all their penalties.  And then the inquisition began.

Qwixx
– Image by boardGOATS

We all really like the game at first because of the way the probability interacted with the constraints on number selection, however, we quickly found that it felt very random because the game was self-balancing.  As their game finished, each player was going to be hoping for lucky dice rolls.  Since twelve and two are relatively unlikely which would have a delaying effect, during which time, anyone who had not got quite as far was going to be able to grab a couple of extra crosses.  The random nature of rolling dice meant that ultimately, the effect of any strategy or tactics applied during the game were vastly outweighed by the randomness of the dice at the end.  Although we felt it was probably a good game for children to have fun with, as a game, it was very surprising it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres.

Qwixx
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Sometimes it is good to play games outside your comfort zone.

Boardgames in the News: So, What Are Euro-Games?

A couple of months ago at our game night, one of the gamers commented that there were a lot of good games from Europe.  This prompted a discussion about “traditional games”, “Euro-games”, “American games” and their relative merits.  Most people know all about traditional games even if they don’t know what gamers mean when they use the term:  traditional games are the games we all used to play as a child including Scrabble, Cluedo and love it or loath it, the dreaded Monopoly.  Some people also include in this list games like Chess, Go and Backgammon as well as traditional card games like Whist, Hearts and Rummy.

Go
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ManCorte

But the front page of the boardGOATS website says, “We generally prefer to play “Euro” style games,” so, what do gamers mean by “Euro-games” or “Euro style games”?  Well, most of the traditional games we used to play as children were produced by publishers in the United States of America, companies like Milton Bradley (who made Scrabble) and Parker Brothers (who made Cluedo and Monopoly).  Incidentally, both these companies are now part of Hasbro, but the aggregation of smaller companies to form a larger one is a topic that’s been covered elsewhere.  While the “English” market was dominated by big players that concentrated on producing a few top sellers, in Germany there was no such dominance.  The effect this had was that the market consisted of a large number of small manufacturers producing more varied products.

Scrabble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Susie_Cat

This coupled with the traditionally strong German toy industry encouraged the growth of a culture of families playing games together on a Sunday afternoon. It was in this environment that the annual German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award, highlighted a range of games from Rummikub in 1980, Torres in 2000 and Camel Up last year.  Over the years, the red pawn of the Spiel des Jahres logo, has become a mark of boardgaming quality, and for many German families, buying the game of the year is something they do every Christmas.  Therefore, the qualities espoused by these awards heavily influence the concept of the “Euro-game”.

Rummykub
– Image by BGG contributor OldestManOnMySpace

But what are these qualities that make a game “European”?  Well, that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, describes them as characterised by “simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction and abstract physical components”.   It goes on to say, “Such games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.”  On the whole this is not a bad summary, except that it is not very specific:  how simple are “simple rules” and how long are “short to medium playing times”?  Clearly these features are more about contrast, and although there are lots of different types of games including party games and war games, this comparison is usually between European style ames and American-style Games, aka “Ameri-Trash”.

Last Night on Earth
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Bilben04

Although common, use of the term Ameri-Trash (or Ameritrash) is controversial as some see it as unnecessarily negative, however, although other terms have been suggested none have proved as popular or as persistent.  The term itself is over fifteen years old and was probably originally used disparagingly and applied to genuinely bad American games as a comparison with the much higher professional standards of games in Germany at the time.  Since then, the scope has been expanded and many fans of those American games have adopted the term as a badge of honour.

Merchant of Venus
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

American-style games tend to be long, usually over two hours, and classically involve a lot of luck and often feature dice rolling.  They are often considered to be a lot less “cerebral” or “puzzle-like” and, as a result, are sometimes described as “more fun”.  The reference to “trash” may in part reflect the style of the pieces which tend to include a lot of plastic pieces to go with the dice.  There is also often a lot of direct conflict in American-style games, where European games tend to be much more family friendly with indirect player interaction.  Classic Ameri-Trash games include:  Arkham Horror, Merchant of Venus, Cosmic Encounter and Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game.  Sometimes there is also a book or film tie-in leading to games like Battlestar Galactica and Dune.  Even just comparing the titles with those of classic Euro-games like Puerto Rico, El Grande, Tikal and Agricola, the difference can clearly be felt.

Arkham Horror
– Image by BGG contributor igorigorevich

The most essential part of American-style games is the theme, however, which is often integral to the game mechanisms.  This encourages people fantasize they are part of the action when playing the game.  The miniatures, the long playing times, the complex interwoven rule-set and the interaction (often culminating in players being eliminated) all combine to draw players into the drama of the game.  In contrast, for Euro-games, the mechanisms are the focus, and the games can often be re-themed without much effort.  The theme is therefore used more as an introduction to the more abstract European strategy games, making them more accessible, rather than being an essential part of the emotional investment.

Relic Runners
– Image by BGG contributor cnidius

But things are not as simple as that.  The nature of modern boardgaming encourages cross-fertilisation.  There are more highly-themed, strategy-games available now and more long, strategic games with miniatures – these are sometimes referred to as “hybrid games”.  For example, games produced by the Days of Wonder (based in the USA), like Ticket to Ride and Relic Runners have a lot of plastic pieces, though the games themselves are quite strategic and generally run for no more than an hour.  Similarly, games like Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Space Alert use real-time and a sound-track to draw the players in, yet they are both short (Escape takes just ten minutes to play) and have no player elimination.  Vlaada Chvátil’s Dungeon Lords series of games, also have a lot of theme, but are also playable in a manageable time-frame, have a lot of strategy and a reasonably streamlined set of rules.

Dungeon Lords
– Image used with permission of BGG
contributor PaulGrogan

Confusingly however, “hybrid” has more recently also come to mean games that include some sort of mobile device application (and thus require a smart phone, tablet or similar).  Now, lots of games have Apps that help them a long a little (e.g. One Night Ultimate Werewolf), but games like Alchemists and XCOM: The Board Game don’t really function properly without them.  The question is, are these still boardgames?  In truth, they are a sort of hybrid computer-boardgame, but the point is, however appropriate the name, it is all about the game and the other people playing:  the bottom line is, if you enjoy playing it, it doesn’t matter what it is called.

Alchemists
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Mouseketeer