Tag Archives: Crappy Birthday

2nd October 2018

Blue was the first to arrive with Pink, who had come specially to celebrate our sixth birthday.  While they were waiting for food they managed a quick game of NMBR 9.  This is a very simple game, almost like Tetris where players try to tessellate tiles, building layers on top of layers, with the higher layers scoring more points.  It is almost a year since Blue and Pink picked it up at Essen, and since then it has been played repeatedly, an average almost once a month (or every other games night).  Mostly we aren’t so keen on multiplayer solitaire games like this, but NMBR 9 is the exception largely because it is so very fast to set up and games are quick to play too making it a great filler.  It is a shame it only plays four, because there is no real reason that it couldn’t play a few more.  Food arrived really quickly, and we were still placing the final tiles.  It was quite close with similar values for the “first floor”, but Blue edged it with a four and a nine on the next layer compared with Pink, who only managed a six.

NMBR 9
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy arrived soon after, and attacked his ham, eggs ‘n’ chips, eventually followed by Pine, Ivory, Green, and Cobalt (a friend of Green’s who will be moving into the village in a few weeks time).  As it was exactly six years since the first games night, we couldn’t let the night pass without some sort of small celebration.  So this year we had chocolate brownie cupcakes adorned with meeples to go with the now traditional, the “Birthday Feature Game”, Crappy Birthday.  This is a very silly game that we now play exactly once a year at the beginning of October, with some house rules to make it slightly more palatable as it really isn’t our sort of game at all.  Strangely though, everyone seems to really enjoy playing it once a year on our birthday.  The idea is very simple:  everyone has a hand of gift cards, and everyone takes it in turns to “celebrate their birthday”.  On a player’s “birthday” they receive a gift from everyone else.  These are shuffled, and the “birthday boy” picks the best and worst – the players who gave these get a point and after one year (i.e. after everyone has had a “birthday”), the player or players with the most points win.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

It is the cards that “make” the game for us:  they are brilliant with fantastic comments.  For example, Pink was tickled, well, pink, by the “pet vulture” that he gave to Pine, which was “very friendly, but stares at you while you are sleeping”.  Pine was quite taken with it too and picked it to be his favourite gift, to go with the “fresh turkey” which was always going to be unpopular with a vegetarian (though might have given him something to feed to the vulture).  Burgundy showed an unexpected desire for a set of fluffy dice (thought that might have been more due to the nature of the other gifts than their actual desirability), and Ivory returned the “thoughtful gift” of a set of “camera scales”, which he felt would have been off-putting.  Despite his love of Star Wars, Green decided he’d rather have “a suit of armour” than a complete collection of memorabilia .  Star wars wasn’t in favour with Cobalt either as he unceremoniously returned the gift of “a Star Wars themed wedding” (though it wasn’t completely clear whether it was the Star Wars theme or the wedding that he was rejecting).

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

There was a brief hiatus while Ivory entertained everyone with a complete rendition of Rod Campbell’s “Dear Zoo” story.  Despite being written over thirty-five year ago, nobody else seemed very familiar with the story and everyone was spell-bound as Ivory explained, “I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet.  They sent me an elephant, but he was too big, so I sent it back.”  A very long list of animals later, we established that the puppy was just perfect and Crappy Birthday continued.  The game finished with Pink who fittingly received a real birthday card (it really IS his birthday soon).  Blue then tried to persuade him that Chernobyl was now a safe place to visit and full of lots of interesting wildlife, but he wasn’t convinced and much to everyone’s surprise, rejected a visit (and possible nuclear suntan) in favour of “twenty tanning sessions”.  With Crappy Birthday done and people just licking the last of the icing off the meeples from the cupcakes, it was time to decide what to play next.

Cupcakes!
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink was very keen to play either Altiplano or Clans of Caledonia and Ivory and Burgundy were very keen to join them.  Time was short and the games are similar lengths, however, Blue, Pink and Burgundy had all played Altiplano, and with it’s similarity to Orléans, it was felt that it would be easier for Ivory to pick up quickly.  On the next table, everyone else was trying to decide what to play.  With Cobalt new to the group and not able to stay late, they needed a short game that was quick and easy to explain that might be a good introduction to gaming, so in the end, the group settled on Coloretto.  The game is very simple, with players drawing a card and adding to one of the available “trucks”;  each truck can take a maximum of three cards.  Instead of drawing a card players can take a truck and the round is over when everyone has taken a truck.  The aim of the game is to collect sets of cards, but while the three largest sets score positive points, everything else gives negative points.  The really clever part is the score which is based on the triangular number series, so sets score increasingly well as they get larger (or badly if they score negative points of course) .

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Cobalt  quickly got to grips with the game, but played it safe by taking the bonus score cards. Pine went for a specific set of colours and Green ended up with several that he could build on.  As the game progressed, Cobalt continued to play cautiously and kept the number of colours he had small. Green had several colours, but a few sets were building to a significant number.  Meanwhile Pine’s attempt to keep to specific colours was failing and although had lots of one colour, just couldn’t get the others he wanted.  The final round featured a golden joker which took a little while to work out the rules for.  Despite being very pretty, it turned out that it wasn’t such such a good thing after all, especially at the end of the game. Pine ended up with it and took another random card, which didn’t help him, but didn’t hurt him either.  It was very close, but in the final scoring, Cobalt’s cautious approach kept his negative points down to just one, but his positive score had also suffered. It was Green that topped the podium though, with five points more than Pine.

Coloretto
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Cobalt and Green were chatting while Pine was side-tracked by the eye-catching alpaca on the neighbouring table.  Eventually Cobalt called it a night, and Green and Pine contemplated playing something and had just decided to play a quick game, when Black and Purple arrived. They were delighted to find that cakes had been saved for them (with suitably coloured meeples), and the foursome settled down to a game of Splendor.  This is another light, set collecting game that we’ve played a lot.  With simple choices, we find it a relatively relaxing game to play and perfect in the circumstances.  The idea is that players use gem tokens to buy cards, which in turn provide permanent gems that can be used to buy other cards.  Some of the high value cards also give points and players who collect enough of the right gems may earn a visit from a Noble giving them more points – first player to fifteen points is the winner.

Splendor
– Image by BGG contributor zapata131

Everyone followed their own strategy, but it looked like opal (black) and diamond (white) gem cards were the ones that everyone would need due to the Nobles and very few blue sapphires and green emeralds. Purple managed to corner the market for diamonds causing everyone difficulties.  Green was building up red rubies and opals and also going for high scoring cards and Black was managing to gain lots of opals and was quietly beavering away. Pine seemed to find himself in all sorts of trouble as he just couldn’t get the cards he needed with everyone else nabbing them just before him.  It was beginning to look like Black was going to win, but suddenly Purple’s hoarding of diamond gems paid dividends as she was able to grab nobles one after the other and reached the magic fifteen points before anyone else, and exactly one turn ahead of Black as it turned out.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Altiplano had been going for some time.  It had been the “Feature Gamea few weeks back and everyone had really enjoyed it as it gave a new spin on the “bag building” mechanism used in another game we are very familiar with, Orléans. The games are similar in that each player has their own player board, draws “workers” out of their bag and then plays them onto their board before everyone takes in it in turns to carry out the associated actions (one at a time).  The biggest fundamental difference between the two games is that in Altiplano, when tokens are used, they don’t go straight back in the bag as in Orléans, instead, they go into a separate box.  The tokens then only go back into the bag once everything has been used and the bag is empty.  This reduces the lottery element and as a result the game is a lot less forgiving to a poorly controlled bag, but players have much more control if they can find a way of using it.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

The games are visually very different too, with everything set out on a central player board in Orléans, which also features a map which players are trying to navigate and build on.  There is no map, in Altiplano, but there is still a spacial element to the game:  the central play area is made of locations arranged in a circle and only certain actions can be carried out in each one.  For example, if players want to sell goods, they must be at the Market, and must have the relevant goods placed in the Market spaces on their player board.  Before or after their action, players can move, but movement is very restricted.  Players begin with one card that can move up to three spaces in either direction, but they can also “buy” additional moves. And this is where we got the rules wrong.  The correct rules are that players can place a food token onto one of the movement spaces allowing the player to travel just one space (recycling the food into their box).  When these spaces are upgraded with carts, there is still a cost of one food, but now players can move up to three spaces. The rules error was that players couldn’t use the extra movement spaces until they had got a cart, and then they could only travel one space.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Blue was sure something wasn’t right, but was too busy checking other things and answering questions that she didn’t get to find what the problem was until the game was nearly finished.  At this point, Pink informed everyone that he hadn’t been listening to the rules outline and had just been “playing correctly”.  The problem with this is that in a game as tight as Altiplano, even the smallest of changes can have unpredictable consequences.  Last time, Green had been taking a token when he bought Cottage Cards (in effect using them as Canoe Cards); although he had only benefited from a couple of extra tokens, he would have been able to use them several times, and as one of them was Stone it would have helped him to get extra tokens out of his bag, and taking the last Glass token ended the game prematurely etc.  Thus, in this game in particular it is impossible to unravel mistakes and try to work out what effect it might have had, though both Blue and Burgundy felt they would have benefited hugely had they been able to take those extra moves.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Aside from that, the game was mostly played according to the rules.  Pink went for a warehouse strategy concentrating on trying to obtain high value goods, in particular Silver and Wool. Burgundy really struggled at the start and in the end just tried to get hold of any resources he could, and then send them off to his warehouse.  Blue started off really well, but her game stalled in the second half when she ended up with a lot of stuff in her bag that ended up blocking spaces she wanted to use and slowed down the rate she was drawing the tokens she wanted.  While trying to sort out the mess she commented, “I’m going to stuff my whorehouse,” which gained a lot of sniggers from the neighbouring table.  The game was a bit of a mystery to Ivory and he kept saying that he could see how the game worked, but not where he was going to get any points from.  That said, he managed to get nearly a hundred of them giving him a very creditable score for a first try especially given the rules error and the haste they had been explained in.  He probably raised the biggest laugh of the night as well when he sighed deeply and announced, “I think I’m just going to have to get my wood out!”

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor JackyTheRipper

Blue had fulfilled more contracts than anyone else and had the vast majority of the glass, but it wasn’t enough.  It was very tight between Pink and Burgundy in first and second place though—Burgundy had more goods in his warehouse, but Pink’s were generally of a higher value.  In fact it was so close that it called for a recount, just in case.  It turned out that the scores had been correct though and Burgundy’s hundred and fifty-two, just edged out Pink who finished three points behind.  Comparing the totals to those achieved last time showed how much everyone has improved since the winning score for that game was a hundred and three.  The reason for that is probably largely the fact that everyone is getting better at controlling the contents of their bag.  As Pink pointed out, it really is critical to get rid of things that aren’t wanted, otherwise you end up in the mess Blue got herself into.

Altiplano
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Learning Outcome:  Don’t put wooden meeples on cakes, they are too chewy…

3rd October 2017

The evening started with a quick hand of Love Letter between Blue and Burgundy while they waited for their “Fave” pizzas to arrive.  The game only lasted a handful of turns and Blue took it with the Princess when she played a Baron to force a comparison.  As Burgundy said, with that combination of cards lined up against him, his poor Baron didn’t stand a chance.  There wasn’t time for him to get his revenge, however, as food arrived, along with a Happy Birthday text from Pink (who wasn’t able to come).  With the arrival of Red and Magenta, Blue and Red talked about work for a few minutes before Ivory and Pine joined the party and everyone settled down to a quick game of 6 Nimmt!—a quick game that could be played while eating pizza.

Happy 5th Birthday!
– Image by boardGOATS

Bizarrely, Ivory had somehow managed to avoid playing 6 Nimmt! despite it being one of our most frequently played games.  So, there was a quick run-down of the rules before we could start.  The game starts with four cards face up on the table, the beginning of four rows.  Each player starts with a hand of cards and players simultaneously choose one and place it face-down before a simultaneous reveal.  Cards are then played in ascending order, with players placing their card on the highest card that is lower than the card being played.  When the sixth card is added to a row, the first five are taken by the active player and the number of heads contribute to that player’s score; lowest score wins.  We tend to play two rounds, each using half of the deck of one-hundred and four cards.  The thing that makes the game so compelling is that players begin to feel they have control over their destiny, but any grip they may have is incredibly tenuous and once things start to go wrong the problems tend to escalate horribly.

– Image by boardGOATS

This time, things started to go wrong early for Red and Blue, but Pine outstripped them by miles and finished the first round with twenty three “nimmts”—as he commented, enough for a whole dairy heard.  Burgundy and Magenta were doing much better with one nimmt and none respectively.  Given his excellent performance in the first round, everyone expected Burgundy to start collecting cards with enthusiasm in the second round, and so it proved.  His efforts paled into insignificance compared with some of the others though, in particular Ivory and especially Blue, who finished with a massive top score of forty-four.  The winner was unambiguously Magenta, however, who added a second clear round to her first and managed to end the game without picking up a single bull’s head, a real achievement.

Happy 5th Birthday!
– Image by boardGOATS

With everyone now arrived and pizzas all consumed it was time for the party to really start, with the “Feature Game”, Crappy Birthday accompanied by a marvellous blue Meeple Cake supplied by Georgie from The Jockey.  Everyone sang Happy Birthday and Blue and Green as the originators of the group blew out the candles then Red took the knife and started to carve while Magenta began dealing cards for the game.  With everyone eating cake (including the people at the pub who couldn’t believe we’d been going for five years), attention turned to Crappy Birthday.  This is funny little party game which we played for the first time last year to celebrate our fourth anniversary.  The premise of the game is that it is one player’s birthday and every one gives them a “present” chosen from the cards in their hand.  The birthday boy or girl then has to choose the best present and worst present and then returns these cards to the person who gave them.  At the end of the game players count up the number of pressies they have had returned and the one with the most (i.e. the one who gave the fewest mediocre presents) is the winner.  The game has a lot in common with Dixit, but is a lot simpler.  In the same way though, the production quality of the cards is really key to making the game work, though the emotions are very different:  in Dixit everyone marvels at the beauty of the art, in Crappy Birthday everyone laughs at the stupidity or brilliance of the gifts.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

This time we discovered that Black wanted a Viking helmet for his birthday, Red wanted to go on the first trip to Mars, Burgunday fancied a course in Sumo wrestling and a drive across the Sahara was on Ivory’s “Bucket List”.  There were many amusing gifts that didn’t actually score points including the Gnome ABBA Tribute Band (singing, “Gnoming me, Gnoming you” perhaps?) and a dead rat to hang on the front door at New Year.  We also discovered that Pine hates heights and horses (especially those that are trying to throw you off), so the session of rodeo riding was thrown straight back in disgust.  Red returned a Porta-Potty (she’s seen plenty in the last year apparently); Blue threw back comedy lessons (she hates being on stage); Black sent back a chair because it was boring and Red decided she couldn’t cope with a 150lb burger and claimed it would make her sick.  Everyone clearly thought that physical exertion was not Burgundy’s thing, but it was the tight rope walking that he was least keen on while Ivory had a fit of shyness and turned down the kind offer of a session skinny-dipping.  Purple rejected the idea of her very own personal roller-coaster, though it was close between that and snake charming lessons.  Pine commented that he would have combined the snake charming with the five chihuahua puppies as the latter would have provided an excellent food supply for the snakes.  This did not go down well with Purple who had chosen the chihuahua’s as her favourite gift and didn’t want them eaten…

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

It didn’t really matter who was the winner because everyone had fun and everyone got their moment in the spotlight as they had to explain their decisions.  And while they listened everyone else got sticky eating the meeple cake which was soon nibbled away to leave just a bit of head and a foot.  After one round we counted up who had the most returned cards and Ivory who had five cards was the winner by miles with Green and Burgundy in a distant, joint second place.  Party games aren’t really the Group’s “thing”, but everyone enjoyed this one (particularly accompanied by cake) and the consensus seemed to be that once a year was about probably right, especially as it gave everyone time to forget the silly things on the cards.  With the birthday cards collected in and the cake mostly gone it was time to decide what to play.  Nobody was quick to decide and things were complicated by those planning to leave early.  In the end we decided to stick together as a group (it was a party after all) and play a round of Saboteur.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

The idea of Saboteur is that each player is either a Dwarf or a Saboteur and players take it in turns to play a card from their hand.  The Dwarves aim is to extend the tunnel to the treasure, while the Saboteurs try to stop them.  There are two types of cards that can be played:  tunnels and special cards.  The cards with tunnel fragments shown must be played in the correct orientation, though the tunnel depicted can include junctions, bends, and even dead-ends. While the Dwarves try to push the path towards the gold, Saboteurs try to play disruptive cards while trying not to look like it.  Meanwhile, special cards include “rockfall” cards which can be played to remove a tunnel card already played, and maps which can be used to see where the gold is hidden.  Most importantly, however are “broken tool” cards which can be played on another player to prevent them building tunnel cards until they (or another kind-hearted soul) plays a matching “fixed tool” card to remove it.  The game is supposed to be played over several round with the winning team sharing out a pile of gold cards, but we tend to play it as a team game and stick to one round at a time.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The game began quite carefully with everyone doing their best to look like dwarves, that didn’t stop the accusations though and it wasn’t long before someone decided that Black and Green were looking shifty.  Green had almost all the map cards and unsportingly decided to stick to the rules and refused to share them.  Then Pine roused suspicions when his use of a map card led to a disagreement with Green clearly identifying one of them as a Saboteur.  Before long Ivory had joined the fray and nobody knew what was going on, except that the tunnels kept moving forward.  Eventually, Blue left nobody in any doubt when she gleefully diverted the tunnel away from the only possible remaining gold.  With the last card in the draw deck gone, it went down to the wire, but all the sabotage from Blue, Pine and Ivory was to no avail.  Cards continued to be played and it took a whole extra round, but the Dwarves just managed to make it to the treasure.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

With time ticking on, Red and Magenta left for an early night and the residue of the group split into two parts, the first of which played Sheep & Thief.  This game has had a couple of outings recently, in particular on a Tuesday two weeks ago.  Sheep & Thief is a curious little tile/card drafting and laying game with elements of pick up and deliver mechanisms added for good measure.  Each player has a board divided into a four by four grid, and starts with their home card and two sheep in the top left hand corner.  Each round is played in two halves: first players draft cards then they play them, taking it turns to place one card per turn.  Players are trying to connect their home card to the other three corners while trying to keep their sheep safe and trying to catch other players sheep with their fox, meanwhile, they are also attempting to navigate their black sheep to the bottom left right corner of their board.  With points for all sorts of things including sheep captured, sheep retained, long rivers, connecting the home card to the other corners of the board as well as for moving their black sheep as far from home as possible, it is a veritable “point salad”, but one where it is actually very difficult to do well.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, with his love of sheep was always going to do do well, despite this being his first try at the game.  Everyone else had played it several times before and therefore knew what they were letting themselves in for.  The strategies were very varied though, for example, Purple prioritised getting her road from her home card to the opposite corner of her board and picked up fifteen points for doing so.  Green prioritised getting his black sheep as far as he could in the hope that he might get points for his road in the process.  Unfortunately, although Green’s sheep netted him fifteen points, he was not able to connect his home card to any other corner and therefore failed to get any extra points as a result.  In contrast, Black tried to do a bit of everything which really isn’t a strategy that works for this game.  As a result he really struggled.  It was a very close game, and on the re-count finished in a tie between Green and Pine who both scored thirty-one points with Purple just behind.  Since the tie-breaker is the number of sheep and and both Green and Pine finished with the same number of sheep the victory was shared.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Ivory, Burgundy and Blue were being indecisive.  In the end after looking longingly at the “Deluxified” Yokohama, they reluctantly decided that it would probably take too long and decided to give Dice Forge a go instead.  This game was new to everyone except Ivory who gave his assurance that it would not be a long and complicated game.  And he was right – the whole thing took less than an hour and a half including teaching.  The game is a dice building game, with a lot in common with the deck building games like Dominion and bag building games like Orléans, or cup building games like Roll for the Galaxy, where the aim is to try to mitigate the effects of luck by stacking the deck, bag, cup or in this case dice, to improve the odds.  In the case of Dice Forge, it is the dice themselves that players are modifying.  Each player starts with two dice, similar to those in some of the Lego games, where the faces can be removed and changed.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

Beyond this, the game is actually quite simple.  On the active player’s turn, everyone rolls both their dice and adds the result to their accounting tracks.  On their turn, the active player can then also spend some of their gains to either upgrade dice, or to move their pawn from their central “Starting Portals” to one of the “Islands” on the board and take a “Heroic Feat” card.  Each upgrade has a cost, with the best upgrades having the highest costs.  The cards also have costs and the most powerful cards are the most expensive.  When upgrading, players can choose which faces to replace and what to replace them with.  In contrast, most of the cards have a single use special action or bonus, but some also have a perpetual action.  With the game restricted to only ten rounds, however, these have to be bought early if they are to prove game winners.  Once everyone had had the full ten rounds, each player adds up their points and the player with the most is the winner.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

There are several sources of points:  firstly, some dice faces give points, but this is not a particularly efficient way of scoring unless there are some cards that can be used to increase the acquisition speed. Cards can be more effective, but only if the means to buy them can be accumulated quickly and efficiently.  Blue started off trying to get some nice dice faces to improve the probability of a good roll.  She quickly realised the really clever part of the game:  what is the best way to upgrade the dice and how should the faces be distributed?  For example, is it better to put all the good faces on one die and guarantee one good roll, or is it better to spread them across both and hope to roll more good rolls than bad ones?  She opted for the latter, but wasn’t sure whether that was the right choice or not.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

While Blue was faffing about with where to put her dice, Burgundy had a much bigger problem as he was struggling to roll what he wanted in order to upgrade his.  This had the knock-on consequence that by the time he got what he wanted, invariably, Blue or Ivory had pinched what he wanted.  Ivory, having played the game before clearly had a much better idea of what he was trying to do, but although he managed some exceptional rolls, he struggled from time to time too.  In the end, Burgundy more or less gave up on dice and started to collect cards.  Somehow he managed to accrue a seventy-two cards—a massive number compared with compared with the forty-two/forty-six that Ivory and Blue had gathered together.  It almost worked as well, since he netted a fantastic ninety-eight points, remarkable considering his very slow start.  In the end Burgundy finished just two points behind Blue who top-scored with a nice round hundred.  Everyone had enjoyed it though, despite the frustrations, and everyone was quite keen to give it another go, though not straight away as it was definitely home time.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Time flies when you are playing boardgames!

4th October 2016

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

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Endeavor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor duchamp

The problem is, once an action has been completed, the Merchant must move on, however, an Assistant remains to complete the details of the transaction.  Thus, the Merchant can only carryout a transaction if he has the help of an Assistant.  When he runs out of Assistants, the Merchant cannot carryout a transaction and must either visit the Fountain and summon his Assistants or go back to stalls where the Assistants are to collect them.  The central play-area is made up of tiles representing each stall, so there are four possible layouts:  “Short”, where the distances between places that work well together are small making game-play easier; “Long”, where places that work well together are far apart, which forces players to plan ahead more; “Challenging”, where similar places are grouped together, and “Random”.  For this game, we chose “Long” routes to give us a slightly more interesting game.

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

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

Istanbul
– Image used with permission of of boardgamephotos

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

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Splendor
– Image by boardGOATS

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

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

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

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

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