Tag Archives: Das Labyrinth des Pharao

16th March 2021 (Online)

Purple, Black, Pine and Green chatted while Blue reminded herself of the rules for the first game.  Green showed everyone his new game, Fossilis, which comes with little plastic dinosaur bones, tweezers, and even a tiny plastic scorpion—one to play when we get back to the pub, along with the very newly released Red Rising, the Oceania Expansion for the really popular Wingspan, and a whole host of other games that we’ve been waiting over a year to play.

Fossilis
– Image by boardGOATS

And sadly, with the realisation that it was a year and a day since a very small group met at The Jockey for the last (unofficial) games night there, we moved on to playing the “Feature Game“, Das Labyrinth des Pharao.  Das Labyrinth des Pharao is a tile laying game in a similar vein to Take it Easy! which we played a few weeks ago, or the Spiel des Jahres nominee, Karuba (which we last played about five years ago).  In Das Labyrinth des Pharao though, players are exploring a pyramid and collecting treasure.

Das Labyrinth des Pharao
– Image by boardGOATS

Although we’ve not played it on a Tuesday, some of the group have played it before at the Didcot Games Club (November 2015 and September 2016).  Like all the games that we’ve found that work well played online, Das Labyrinth des Pharao is quite simple to play, but it is a little bit “thinky” relying on planning and a little bit of luck.  Everyone had the tiles and board that were delivered a few weeks back, and they had found their Tiny Towns cubes and a meeple from one of the special Christmas crackers we’ve had at one of the unChristmas Parties during happier times.

Das Labyrinth des Pharao
– Image by boardGOATS

The first thing to do was lay out the tiles around the board, in number order—some appear more than once, so these are stacked.  Players then counted out five, four and three of their cubes as treasures.  Once everything was set up, Blue explained that Pink would turn over one of the beautifully decorated number cards (each part of a polyptych), and everyone had to place the corresponding tile on their board.

Das Labyrinth des Pharao
– Image by boardGOATS

They can place the tile anywhere on their board, in any orientation. Some of the tiles have scarabs depicted on them—players can place treasures on these, but must start with the lowest value treasures first.  So, only when all five one-point treasures had been used, could players move on to the four two-point treasures, and finally the three-point treasures (blue, green and red disks respectively, though we were playing with turquoise, yellow and red cubes).

Das Labyrinth des Pharao
– Image by boardGOATS

After the third round, players have to choose which of the six possible entrances they are going to start from and then progress their “explorer meeple” along the path as far as they can.  In the rules, players mark the path at intervals so everyone else can see how far the explorers have travelled, but given the added difficulties associated with playing remotely and the fact that players could count their own path at any time, we omitted this.

Das Labyrinth des Pharao
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends after twenty-five of the twenty-eight cards have been revealed and then people add up their scores.  Firstly, they score one point for each quarter tile their tunnel extends along.  Next they score points for each treasure chamber their tunnel passes, that is a chamber that contains one treasure surrounded by walls on all four sides.  As usual, the player with the most points is the winner.

Das Labyrinth des Pharao
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was a bit of a tale of people missing cards and having to try to correct it, and for a change, it wasn’t just the usual suspects.  As the game progressed, it became clear that most people had tried to follow Blacks advice and tried to place as many of their treasure tokens as they could.  The problem with this is that they aren’t worth anything unless players have managed to enclose them in a chamber and ensure their route passes alongside.

Das Labyrinth des Pharao
– Image by boardGOATS

In fact, one of the biggest problems for some turned out to be connecting valuable parts of their tunnel to their chosen entrance to ensure their treasure hunter was able to explore the temple.  Pine and Pink seemed particularly afflicted, and as the game drew to a close, Burgundy and Pink in particular were getting increasingly desperate for tile number fourteen.  The final tile was number six, which did most of the job and with that, everyone had to work out their scores.

Das Labyrinth des Pharao
– Image by boardGOATS

As usual, Ivory posted his score first, setting a competitive target of fifty, made up of thirty-one from his path and nineteen in treasure.  In general, the scores were quite close, with almost everyone scoring between forty and fifty.  The longest path was thirty-seven and the most treasure collected was nineteen.  In most cases, those that had a long path (like Blue and Burgundy) had few treasures, while those with a lot of treasure (like Pine and Green) had not explored as deep into the temple.  The exception was Pink, who managed to do well at both and finished with a total of fifty-four.

Das Labyrinth des Pharao
– Image by boardGOATS

It had been a fairly short game, and as it was a while since we’d practised our colouring, we moved onto a quick game of “Roll and WriteTetris, in the form of Second Chance.  We’ve played this quite a bit since we first started playing online, but the last time was just before Christmas, so we decided to give it another go.

Second Chance
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that two shapes are revealed and players must draw them in their nine-by-nine grid.  The shapes come in different sizes and the game rewards efficiency in packing.  If a player is unable to play either shape, they get a second chance: one card all to themselves.  If they can play that, then they can carry on, but if they are unable to play that as well, then they are eliminated.

Second Chance
– Image by boardGOATS

Unusually, being eliminated is not necessarily a guarantee of failure in this game:  the winner is the player with the fewest unfilled spaces at the end, which is when the deck of cards runs out.  So, in this game, a player can be knocked out, but still win.  This time, there were a couple of people who threatened to need a second chance, but then suddenly in one round, nobody was able to place either shape and everyone needed a second chance.

Second Chance
– Image by boardGOATS

That round took out everyone but Green and Black, but as there were no cards left, it turned out to be the final round, and that was that.  The scores varied from eleven to two, with a tie between Lilac and Blue for first.  Pink suggested a vote based on the quality of the art-work, but nobody wanted to choose between them and a tie it remained.

Second Chance
– Image by boardGOATS

From there, Ivory and Lilac took an early night, while the rest of the group moved to Board Game Arena for a game of Saboteur.  This hidden traitor game is one we’ve played a lot online over the last year.  The idea is that players are either Good Dwarves or Evil Saboteurs, with the Dwarves trying to play cards to build a tunnel and find the treasure, while the Saboteurs try to stop them using blocking cards and by breaking the Dwarves’ tools.

Saboteur
– Image by boardGOATS

It is always extremely difficult for the Saboteurs to win, but we live in hope and everyone is always pleased to get the opportunity to try.  The first round it was Blue’s and Black’s turn to try.  With seven players, there can be two or three Saboteurs—with just two it was pretty much guaranteed to be gold for the Dwarves, and so it proved.  The Dwarves headed straight for the gold, and despite a desperate rear-guard action the round was quickly over.

Saboteur on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

The second round was much closer.  The evil Pine, Pink and Green made life extremely difficult for the Dwarves very effectively blocking their first route to the gold and forcing them to go all around the houses before they found the gold.  Early in the game, Pink caused chaos by disagreeing with Pine as to where the Gold was, and the ensuing confusion made it very close.  The Saboteurs had a lot of cards that worked in their favour, but they still couldn’t quite stop Purple from finding the gold in the end.  The third and final round was a different story though…

Saboteur on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from
boardgamearena.com

Initially, the tunnels made good progress, but largely by chance, the tunnel headed towards the top card, when the treasure (it turned out) was at the bottom.  Things were made worse for the Dwarves when paranoia meant they turned on each other early.  There was more confusion about where the gold was and the Dwarves were in disarray.  Eventually, Pine revealed his colours, and then Black, and finally Burgundy.  For once, the cards went the Saboteurs’ way and they played them really well too.  Despite a desperate effort, there was nothing the Dwarves could do against such wickedness, and after a year of trying, the Saboteurs took their first victory.

Saboteur on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from
boardgamearena.com

Time was marching on and we were looking for one last game to play, something perhaps a little different from the usual 6 Nimmt!.  After some discussion, Green and Black ducked out and everyone else played Draftosaurus—a game that Blue and Pink have very nearly picked up on several occasions, including Essen in 2019, just after it first came out and that Pine described as “Sushi Go! with dinosaurs”.  With that description, nobody could resist giving it a go.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

By this, Pine meant the main mechanism is drafting.  In Sushi Go! players have a hand of cards, then simultaneously, they choose one to keep and pass the rest on.  In Sushi Go!, players are collecting sets of cards, but in Draftosaurus players are drafting little wooden dinosaur meeples and placing them in their dinosaur park, on their personal player board.  The clever part, and what makes it different to Sushi Go!, is that the scoring is driven by the different park locations.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

Before each draft, a die is rolled that restricts where players can place their chosen dinosaur and the seven locations all score for different combinations of dinosaurs.  This means that players can want the same dinosaurs for different reasons, or different dinosaurs for the same reasons.  The game is played over two rounds, drafting six dinosaurs drawn at random from a bag, first clockwise and then anti-clockwise.  In the Board Game Arena rendering, this is all done electronically and the tactile nature is lost, however, the graphics are charming.

Draftosaurus on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from
boardgamearena.com

For those who were new to the game, it took a couple of turns to work out where the scoring opportunities  are and how to make the best of them, and also to work out how the dinosaurs are passed round and how players could affect each other.  Pine was the only one to have played before, and therefore had a better grasp of how things worked.  Rather than use this experience to beat everyone else’s faces into the dirt, he helped keep everyone else straight and offered help and advice as required.

Draftosaurus on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Draftosaurus rocks along at quite a pace, and it wasn’t long before the game was coming to an end.  Burgundy and Pink had got to grips with the game best and quickest and there was only one point in it.  Although they had mostly tried different approaches, both had also tried to collect different dinosaurs in the Meadow of Differences.  Burgundy had the edge though, and took victory with thirty-eight points.

Draftosaurus on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Everyone had really enjoyed it and fallen a little bit in love with the charming graphics, quick game play, and what’s not to like about building a dinosaur park?!?!  This is definitely one to get and play once we can meet up properly again.  And on that positive note, looking forward to playing together with tactile dino-meeples after a year of gaming from home, it was time for bed.

– Image by BGG contributor kalchio

Learning Outcome:  Pharaohs and Dinosaurs, what’s not to like?

Next Meeting, 16th March 2021 – Online!

Although the spring is definitely on its way, with the current stresses, people still need what social contact they can get, and board games are a great medium for that.  Despite the limitations of “remote gaming“, everyone feels it is important to stay in touch, so we are persisting with online meetings.  Therefore, our next meeting will be on Tuesday 16th March 2021; we will gather from around 7.30pm, and start playing at 8pm.

This week, the “Feature Game” will be Das Labyrinth des Pharao.  This is a tile laying game in a similar vein to Take it Easy! which we played a few weeks ago, or the Spiel des Jahres nominee Karuba which we last played a long time ago.  This game has an Egyptian theme though, with players exploring a pyramid.

 Das Labyrinth des Pharao
– Image by boardGOATS

And talking about Egypt…

Jeff was living in Egypt by the banks of a beautiful ancient river.  Every year the river flooded, but Jeff remained certain that the river would not destroy his house.  One year, the people of the village tried desperately to persuade him to evacuate, as the floods that year were particularly severe.  Jeff would not listen though, convinced he was right.  The floods came within the month, however, ruining his house and pulling him, and the debris, into the river.  The people, watched from the shores, shouting at him, and yelling, asking him why he didn’t listen.  Jeff continued ignoring them—he was still in de-Nile.

2nd February 2021 (Online)

There was a bit of chit-chat as people turned up clutching their brown, manilla envelopes, delivered over the previous few days by Purple Packet-force or Pink Parcel Post.  At 8pm, everyone opened their envelope to find the bits and pieces for two games: the “Feature GameTake it Easy!, and Das Labyrinth des Pharao (with the Sphinx und Triamide expansion boards) which we will play in a month or so.  There was also a little chocolate, so as people munched, Blue explained the rules to Take it Easy!.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

Take it Easy! is a tile laying game where players have a pile of hexagonal tiles which they place on their hexagon player board (because hexagons are simply the bestagons).  Each tile has three pipes crossing it, in three different colours.  There are a total of nine different coloured pipes, three in each different direction.  Tiles are drawn from a stack one at a time, and each player adds them to their personal player board.  The rules are simple:  the tiles can be placed anywhere on the board but must be placed so the numbers are the right way up so that the directions of the nine different coloured pipes are fixed.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

Players score points for any pipes that contain only the one colour, and the number of points is dependent on the colour of the pipe (the number on the pipe) and the number of tiles in the pipe.  Thus, a yellow pipe, five tiles long going straight down the middle scores forty-five points, while a black pipe, along the edge, just three tiles long would only score three points.  There are a maximum of fifteen pipes, but it is almost impossible to complete all successfully, especially as there are some tiles that are not used, so there is an element of chance as well as hedging bets.  Blue and Pink drew tiles and displayed them for everyone to see.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

The pieces the players used had been modified with the addition of letters to make it slightly easier for players to uniquely identify the individual tiles.  We were about three or four tiles in, when someone’s comment suddenly made Green realise that he’d started with the wrong tile.  Having form with this sort of thing, Green got a certain amount of stick for “cheating”, but having found it early, he corrected his mistake and we carried on.  As the game drew towards a conclusion, the number of spaces players had left progressively decreased, and increasingly, players needed specific colours and then specific tiles to complete their pipes.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

Pink was particularly desperate, but inevitably didn’t get the yellow pipe he so desperately wanted, which ultimately cost him thirty-six points.  As everyone else was still taking off their shoes and socks to add up their scores, Ivory gave his total as one hundred and ninety-four, to howls of distress from everyone else, who clearly felt they were nowhere close.  Indeed, the closest score was a hundred and eighty-two from Green in second with Blue four points behind him.  Although everyone believed Ivory’s score, they were keen to see how he’d done it so we looked at the photo he’d sent in and admired his layout and looked sadly at their own.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

Take it Easy! hadn’t taken very long to play, indeed it was only quarter to nine.  Everyone had really enjoyed it and now they felt they understood the game a little better, they all fancied another chance to see if they could catch Ivory on the second attempt.  So, this time everyone had their plan and they were keen to get going.  As the tiles were drawn there were variously coos of delight when a desired tile came out and teeth sucking when the tile was difficult to place.  Again, as the game progressed, the teeth sucking and pleas for particular tiles got more desperate.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

When the last tile was drawn the stress was released and everyone settled down to count.  Ivory was first to finish his arithmetic, and when he commented that he’d done better than last time, everyone else’s hearts sank.  Ivory set a new target of two hundred and two, but aside from him, almost everyone else failed to improve on their first score (Lime’s excuse was that he was missing the help of his assistant).  Lilac was the most improved though, increasing her score by sixty to take an excellent second place with one hundred and ninety-six, with nobody else coming close.

Take it Easy!
– Image by boardGOATS

We had all really enjoyed Take it Easy! and we’ll definitely give the game another outing, but in the meantime it was still quite early, so although Lime took an early night, everyone else was keen to play Cartographers.  This is a game we’ve been trying to get to the table since before Christmas, but have been unsuccessful thanks to the IT gremlins last time, and On Tour and electing the Golden GOAT taking longer than expected.  However, even two plays through of Take it Easy! had not taken over-long and with everyone familiar with the rules, we thought there was time to squeeze it in.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

That was before the gremlins returned, this time to kybosh Ivory’s printer.  It looked like plans would have to be revised, but after a bit of poking he persuaded it to cooperate and everyone settled down to concentrate on their artwork. Cartographers is a “Roll and Write” type game or perhaps more accurately a “Flip and Colour”, as the game is driven by cards instead of dice and players are colouring terrain blocks, fitting shapes together in a Tetris-style.  This is similar to other games like Second Chance and Patchwork Doodle, but is definitely a step up thanks to goal cards revealed at the start of the game.  There are four goals two of which are scored at the end of each round in a way reminiscent of the scoring in another game that is popular with the group, the 2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Isle of Skye.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

This time the four goal cards were Stoneside Forest (three points for each mountain terrain connected to another with forest), Shoreside Expanse (three points for each lake or arable that is not adjacent to water, farmland or the edge of the map), Great City (one point for each space in a player’s second largest city) and The Cauldrons (one point for each single, empty space completely surrounded; the only goal card that was different to when we played the game back in September).  Goals A and B are scored at the end of the first round, Goals B and C at the end of the second and so on.  The game proceeds with players drawing their choice of shape and terrain from the card revealed, trying to score as effectively as possible for the current round, but also with an eye to scoring in later rounds.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is made more interesting in that cards give players a choice of terrain or shape and sometimes both, increasing the decision space over games like Second Chance and Patchwork Doodle.  Additionally there are Ruins cards which restrict where players can play for a turn, and Ambush cards which force players to put negatively scoring shapes on their board.  In the past, we have used the house-rule that instead of introducing one Ambush every round we only add them from the second round onwards to give people a chance to settle into the game.  Additionally, because we are playing remotely, we play the Ambush cards using the solo player rules.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

Although we like the spice the Ambush cards add, they can swing the game quite a bit and add a bit of randomness.  Part of the driving-force to play Cartographers was the desire to try out the alternative, “Wastelands” map, so because of the additional challenge we thought this would add, we again used the house-rule, and only added three Ambush cards during the game.  The “Wastelands” are an area of the map that is inaccessible to the map-makers and as such is terrain already filled in, but is space that cannot be used.  It quickly became apparent that this meant players filled up their maps much more quickly so it became harder to place the bigger shapes from a much earlier point in the game.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

For some, this was an advantage when it came to the Ambush cards later in the game, as it meant there wasn’t sufficient space to add them to the player board.   The first round was full of Water and Farmland, which was useful for the Shoreside Expanse goal (at the end of the first and second rounds), but keeping them separate with the additional obstacle of the Wasteland was difficult.  Worse, this caused obstructions for players trying to score for connecting their Mountains using forest (Stoneside Forrest, scoring in the first and final rounds).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

There was also a lot of Settlement early on, with Woodland relatively scarce.  There weren’t any Ruins until later either and with the first Ambush card only appearing in the third round, players could mostly do what they wanted in the early part of the game.  When the Ruins came towards the end, some players had no choice where to place them while others benefited from being unable to place them at all.  The same was true for the Ambush cards with some players being unable to play them at all and therefore not picking up negative points at the end of the game.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

When everyone was feeling the pinch the Marshlands card appeared, which is one of the biggest shapes.  Purple’s distressed cry of, “It won’t fit, I can’t get it in!”, was followed by Black’s dry response, “It’s too big…” which had everyone else in stitches.  From there it wasn’t long before the game came to an end.  Ivory was once again the first to report his score, posting a massive total of one hundred and eight, which most people felt would not be surpassed.  Indeed, that was the way it stayed with nobody else exceeding a hundred (after Black’s goblin-related recount), until Pink, giving his score last, sneaked into the lead with one hundred and twelve.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

It was quite late, so Ivory headed off to bed as did Lilac, but there was still time for the rest to play a game of our current end of evening favourite, the Professional Variant of 6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena.  This is so simple yet so much fun:  players simultaneously choose a card from their hand and then add them to one of the four rows in order.  The fast play, lack of down time, and the illusion of control together with the sudden disasters that befall people who are doing well, just hits the spot for the group.

6 Nimmt!
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, Burgundy started the race to the bottom, but was quickly joined by Purple.  Her efforts were outstripped by Burgundy though who had high cards when he wanted low ones and low cards when he wanted high ones.  As a result, he finished with a very impressive minus twenty-seven.  At the other end, Green, Pink, Pine and Blue were neck-and-neck, until Green started collecting nimmts.  Pine, who always does well in 6 Nimmt! held the lead for most of the game, but with the end in sight, it all went wrong for him leaving Blue to take the glory just ahead of Pink.  Thanks to Burgundy’s prowess at collecting nimmts there was still time for one last game.

6 Nimmt! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

There was a lot of discussion about options, but when someone pointed out that No Thanks! had had been added to the list of games (albeit in beta), everyone was keen to give it a go.  As Blue set up the game, Pine asked whether there was a “drop a token between the floorboards option” in reference to a memorable evening that had ended with a round of Hunt the Game Piece only to find that it had dropped seamlessly through the gap to nestle in the dust under the floor of The Jockey.  That sort of diversion aside, we all know the rules and the game is (usually) quick to play, so we thought we’d give it a go.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

No Thanks! is an extremely simple game:  the top card from the deck is revealed and the first player has a simple choice, take the card or pay a chip to pass the decision on to the next player.  When a player takes a card, they also take any chips and then turn over the next card and start again.  The cards have a face value between three and thirty-five, but nine cards are removed at random.  When the deck is depleted, players sum the face value of their cards and subtract this total from the number of chips they have to give their final score—the player with the most positive score is the winner.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

The really clever part of the game is that players who have a run, only count the lowest card.  This means cards have different values to different players and there-in lies the tension and the fun.  Further, since the number of chips players have is kept secret, players have to decide whether the card they want will still be available when their next turn comes.  The version of the game we usually play, nominally only plays a maximum of five people.  The more recent version plays up to seven, as does the Board Game Arena implementation.

No Thanks! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

The first thing we discovered was that the “Spend a Chip” button was perilously close to the top of the cards which meant it was very easy to “sausage-finger” and accidentally take a card without meaning to.  Black was the first to fall foul of this, but he was not the only one.  The second thing was that somehow, playing online somehow took away some of the tension, perhaps partly due to the automatic bidding, possibly contributed to by the fact we were playing with six, but probably mostly due to the fact that players cannot see the angst of their opponents as they try to make the simple decision.

 

No Thanks! on Board Game Arena
– Image by boardGOATS from boardgamearena.com

Success in this game is always achieving a rare positive score.  This time, Pink hogged all the chips finishing with nearly half the total in the game.  This put pressure on everyone else and even the winner finished in the red, albeit with a lot more than the minus sixty-four scored by the player at the bottom.  The winner was Pine, with minus six, some nine points ahead of Burgundy in second place.  Although we all enjoyed playing, somehow it didn’t have quite the same effect as 6 Nimmt!, so the search to find another game we can play at the end of the evening continues.

No Thanks!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Never assume the name of a game is a guide on how to play it.

6th February 2018

With seven of us and the “Feature Game”, Ave Caesar, only playing six, we started the evening with a small problem.  The general consensus was that the game is more fun with more people, so splitting into two small groups didn’t feel right.  Blue offered to sit out as she was still eating, as did Burgundy and almost everyone else as well, but in the end, Purple and Black teamed up so we could all play together.  An older family game dating from 1989, Ave Caesar is also a fairly simple game.  The idea is that each player has a deck of movement cards, a chariot, and a coin, and the aim of the game is to be the first player to cross the line after completing three laps of the track.  On the way round each player must pay tribute to Caesar on the way by pulling up in front of the Emperor in his dedicated pit lane, chucking their Denarius into the game box and crying “Hail Caesar!”.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There are some nasty, unforgiving little features about this game.  For example, the track is generally a maximum of two lanes wide.  Worse, players can only use each of their cards once and don’t have lot of spare moves, so the outside lane should be used sparingly otherwise they may run out of moves before they complete their final lap.  Even worse than that, each player starts with a hand of three cards and plays one, then refreshes their hand.  The snag is that players cannot jump or move through occupied spaces and must use every space on the card they play, in other words, they cannot play a five for example if there are only three spaces they can move.  These “nasty features” can make the game very frustrating, but are also the clever part as they provide the challenge.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

There have been several editions of the game, but the original Ravensburger is widely believed to be the best because it has slightly longer tracks which makes for a tighter game as players have fewer moves to spare.  It is well understood that the newer version that we were playing with could be improved by removing a five card from each player’s deck.  So we started sorting and counting cards, and finding a five to remove from each deck.  With this done, all those eating had also finished and Burgundy started with a modest two.  Blue was second and, with two sixes in hand felt that it was a good idea to get rid of one of them nice and early.  The problem with sixes is that you can’t play them when you are in the lead, but they can be quite difficult to play from the back as there has to be enough space in front to play them.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

Burgundy’s two proved to be a mistake as everyone else promptly overtook him and left him stuck at the back for most of the rest of the lap.  In fact, he was so stuck, that he ended up missing three turns on the first lap alone.  In contrast, Blue had broken away from the pack and was looking at lapping Burgundy, but this had its own problems as she needed to get rid of her sixes, which she couldn’t do while in the lead.  Blue went to hail Caesar on her first lap to give people a chance to catch up.  After a bit of moaning that he hated Bank-holiday traffic, Pine finally managed to break away from the log-jam and take the lead giving Blue a chance to ditch a six, and everyone else a chance to make some progress too.  Everyone else that is, except Burgundy who was doing an excellent job of bringing up the rear.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

During the second lap, Pine just managed to nip in and pay his dues to Caesar, while Green followed and then reduced his chariot speed to a crawl and “Hailed” three times successfully causing a queue behind.  It was the third lap where things started to get interesting though with everyone jockeying for position to try to make sure that they didn’t have to waste moves.  Blue had a bigger problem though, she was miles in front, but still had to draw her final six from the deck and then play it.  She tried hanging back, reluctant to give away the size of her problem, but that card stayed in the pack.  Finally, as she drew her last card, she found her final six, but it was too late and Team Black and Purple cantered past and pipped her to the finish.  Green trotted in taking third place and leading the rest of the pack home.  Ironically, had she not suggested removing the fives at the start of the game, Blue would have won easily, but that would have been boring.

Ave Caesar
– Image by boardGOATS

It hadn’t been Ivory’s sort of game, so to placate him we offered him Yokohama, a game he’s been angling to play since before Christmas, but there wasn’t quite enough time for that, so he went for Sagrada instead and was joined by Pine and Blue.  This is a very pretty little game with many features in common with one of our current favourites, Azul.  It has simple rules, but lots of complexity and is essentially an abstract with a very thin theme, but for some reason that doesn’t seem to matter.  In Sagrada, players build a stained glass window by building up a grid of dice on their player board. Each board has some restrictions on which colour or shade (value) of die can be placed there and players take it in turns to take dice from a pool and add them to their window.  Depending on the difficulty of the starting grid, players start with a small number of favour tokens which act as “get out of jail free” options and allow them to use special tools to rearrange some of the dice, either during “drafting”, or sometimes those already in their window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Points are awarded for fulfilling certain criteria, depicted on cards drawn at random at the start of the game.  Although completing the window can be challenging in its own right if the dice don’t roll well, it is the objective cards that are the key to the game.  Each player has their own private objective which scores for the number of pips displayed on dice of a given colour in that player’s window. There are also three public objectives which everyone can use to score points; in this case we were scoring for coloured dice diagonally adjacent; complete sets of one to six and pairs of five and six. The game starts with each player choosing a window from two double-sided cards dealt at random.  The hard ones come with a lot of favour tokens; this time almost all the options available seemed to be the difficult ones, which made Blue especially wary given the dogs’ breakfast she made of the game at New Year playing a challenging window.

Sagrada
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Everyone seemed to go for different strategies this time.  Blue went for the public “diagonals” goal, making a pretty Battenburg pattern, but only managed to get one five, so struggled with the other objectives.  In contrast, Ivory did well getting pairs of five and six, but only got one three, so couldn’t score so well for the sets.  Pine completely ignored the diagonals and really concentrated on his private goal and getting complete sets of one to six.  It was a really tight game and Blue and Ivory were to rue those dice they’d failed to get as Pine finished with forty-three points, just two ahead of Ivory and three clear of Blue.  Despite finishing second, Ivory was much happier with this game than Ave Caesar and was up for giving something else a go.  Pine was keen to play Animals on Board again, and it is a nice enough little game and not long so Ivory was happy to give it a go too.  The idea is that players are collecting animals to go in their cardboard ark.  Each set of animals in the game is numbered from one to five and a selection are drawn at random and placed face up in the centre of the table.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

On their turn the active player either divides one of the groups in the middle into two parts (and takes a box of fruit for their pains) or takes the animals from one of the groups, paying for them with boxes of fruit at a rate of one per animal.  At the end of the game (triggered when one player picks up their tenth animal) Noah claims any pairs of animals and the remaining animals are scored: singletons score their face value and sets of three or more score five per animal.  It was quite tight, Ivory collected four rhinos and Pine managed three hippos.  Blue brought the game to a sudden and unexpected end when she unexpectedly found herself with a large set she could take profitably, leaving her with two sets of three, foxes and zebras, and with it, the she took the game.

Animals on Board
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Meanwhile, on the neighbouring table, Black, Pink, Burgundy and Green were playing the classic, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”).  Despite being over twenty years old now, it still holds up as a good family game in a way that some other games of the same vintage do not.  The game is played on an iconic variable tile game board on which players build settlements and cities on the nodes and roads along the edges.  One of the things that makes the game so popular is the lack of down time: a turn consists of rolling dice, trading and then buying and/or building.  Each hexagon on the board is numbered and rolling the dice gives resources to every player with a settlement on the hexagon on the number rolled.  Since each node is on the corner of three hexagons, players frequently get resources during other players’ turns.  Everyone is potentially involved in the trading of course, so the only part of anyone’s turn that is not shared is the buying and building phase, but this is usually quite short.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

This time, the random layout of tiles gave an even spread, but the number tokens placed on them had an unusual symmetry:  both eights were on the mountains (giving stone), both threes were on the fields (giving wheat) and both nines were on the clay beds (giving brick).  Green started and inevitably chose the choice spot with that would give him wool, wood and clay, much to Burgundy’s chagrin. Black was last to place and decided to connect his two roads and settlements, so by the time it Green got his second turn, he had very little option and ended up with a port location which would yield only two cards to everyone rather than three.  The dice seemed to be rolling according to the predicted distribution with the red numbers (six & eight) coming up often.  This gave Burgundy a lot of stone and wood, but due to his lack of brick he quickly converted a settlement to a city which only increased his supply of stone.

– Image by boardGOATS

Unfortunately for him, all these extra resources counted against him as the other number to come up regularly was seven, so meaning the robber was moved and everyone had to reduce the number of resource cards they were holding to seven.  Burgundy often was higher due to his regular double productions, but to make it worse he frequently seemed to because of his own demise since he was the one who kept rolling the sevens—three times in succession at one point! With that kind of luck he really began to wonder if he should just pack it in right then and go play something else.  While Burgundy was struggling with his own security though, Purple and Green were steadily building their kingdoms. Purple gained another settlement and converted one of her others into a city. Green had spread out from his choice spot to build another settlement on the port side of the value eight mountains and in the other direction to another port with more clay, giving him the longest road, and with it two bonus points, for the moment at least.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Black seemed to be languishing, unable to get traction and the cards he needed for expansion. Catan requires investment for growth, but he had barely two coins to rub together to invest with at all.  Once Green had built on the mountain-side the eight rolls seemed to dry up and he struggled to get enough stone or wheat to convert his settlements to cities.  Purple’s hidden development card made everyone think she had an extra hidden point, and possibly the lead. Certainly the early rolls went in her favour and it was beginning to look like this could be her game. Green’s long road brought him into the running, and the power of Burgundy’s cities meant he wasn’t far behind. The production Burgundy’s cities provided meant he was able to go after longest road and take it from Green, thus starting a little road building war between the two.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

With nowhere else on the board worth building on, Burgundy decided on an alternative strategy and started trading for development cards. He managed to place two knights and was about to take the Largest Army, until everyone else reminded him he three army cards for that. It only delayed the inevitable though, as one round later he played a third knight card, claimed the Largest Army and two points with it. He easily built two more roads and with it retook the Longest Road card for a second time simultaneously revealing he had a one point development card in his hand.  This meant he went from five points on the board to a total of ten points in one turn and with it finished the game.  Purple and Black revealed they also had a one point development card to give them both six points and joint second place.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

Both tables finished at about the same time and, as Ivory headed home, Burgundy commented that he’d like to give NMBR 9 a go.  Everyone else chimed in that they’d be happy to join him , but Pine and Purple got there first and with no set up time got started quickly.  The game is very simple: one player turns over a card and calls the number and players each take one tile of that number and add it to their tableau.  All the tiles are roughly number-shaped and each player will play a total of twenty tiles, numbered zero to nine, with each one appearing twice.  Tiles must be placed such that at least one edge touches a previous tile. Tiles can be placed on top of other tiles as long as there are no overhanging parts, and the tile sits squarely on more than one other tile. At the end of the game the number tiles are multiplied by the level they sit on minus one. So, a five on the third level scores ten points (5 x (3-1)).

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Unlike a lot of games, it is very difficult to tell who is winning, as the largest scores come late in the game when adding tiles to the higher layers.  However, the lower layers must be able to  accommodate the later tiles as and when they come out, otherwise a player can’t take advantage of the opportunities they may offer.  This time Burgundy “got lucky” and was able to squeeze a seven, an eight and a nine onto his third level giving him a massive forty-eight points for them alone and a bit of a land-slide victory.  We’ve played this game a few times now as a group and all the previous games have been quite close.  Other Bingo-type game like Take it Easy!, Das Labyrinth des Pharao or Karuba, have been relatively unpopular with the group as they feel like multiplayer solitaire, but somehow, in our group, everyone gets involved helping everyone else out, which makes this game much more enjoyable.

NMBR 9
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

The other three chatted for a few minutes before deciding to play a quick game of Kingdomino as it is a game we know well and can play quickly and without committing too much thought.  It  consists of dominoes featuring two terrain “tiles” with some tiles also depicting one or more crowns.  Players are building their kingdoms by placing dominoes where one end must either connect to another domino matching at least one of its terrain types or to the starting tile (which can be considered to be “wild”).  All dominoes must fit in a five-by-five space and if one or more dominoes cannot be placed according to these rules, then they are discarded. At the end of the game, each player multiplies the number of tiles in each contiguous region of terrain with the number of crowns on the tiles in that region and adds them up together with any bonuses to give their score.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

The game was really tight with each player capitalising and building on different terrain types:  Black took forests, Green took pasture and Blue took sea.  There were three points between first and third, but it was Black who finished at the front, just one point ahead of Blue.  With three players, some tiles are removed from the game at random.  Like last time, almost all the tiles removed were  the high-scoring mountain and marshland tiles, but at least this time nobody’s game plan depended on them.  It did encourage some discussion, though with Black commenting that he didn’t like the game with three because of this uncontrolled randomness, and Blue commenting that perhaps the tiles that are taken out should be turned face up and displayed so that players can at least see what won’t be available.  Maybe a variant for another time.

Kingdomino
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome: Some games stand the test of time, others not so much.

3rd May 2016

Pine, Magenta, Red and Burgundy were all keen to give the “Feature Game”,  Cheesonomics a go, especially when they saw the eye-catching truckle shaped box.  Pine was especially enthusiastic when he realised that it featured both cheese and goats!  The game itself is a fairly simple, set-collecting and hand management card game based on controlling and manipulating supply and demand of various types of cheese, all seasoned with a sprinkling of dreadful puns.  Players have a hand of five “wedge-shaped” cheese cards each with a colour suit (corresponding to country) and an animal suit (milk type).  On their turn, the active player can carry-out one of three possible actions:  churn, produce or sell.  Churning is a way a player can improve their hand.  First they declare a suit (colour or animal) and everyone else has to pass a matching card to the active player.  Once all the cards are in, the active player chooses five to keep and hands one card back to each player.

Cheesonomics
– Image by boardGOATS

Players can then place a matching set of cards in front of them to produce cheese; the cards must either have the same colour or the same animal.  The last possible action is to sell cheese:  a maximum of three cheese wedges can be sold at any one time and they must all be the same country (colour).  The cheese is valued at the market rate which is calculated from the number of wedges of that colour displayed in the market.  These wedges are different on both sides, so once a sale has been made, one market “share” is turned over (the market is “mooved”), which reduces the value for the next sale.  The clever part of the game is the scoring:  in addition to money made from selling cheese, players also get bonus points at the end of the game.  The players who sold the most of each cheese type (i.e. animal) get extra points equivalent to the number of wedges sold.  So, cheese is sold by colour, but bonus points are awarded for animals.

Cheesonomics
– Image by boardGOATS

Only Blue had played Cheesonomics before and that was a two-player game, so nobody really had a feel for how it would play.  Red went first and churned, followed by Pine who asked for goats.  Burgundy got a good starting hand and was able to produce a large batch of German cheese on his first turn, but otherwise we all got carried away churning cheese.  The problem was that since everyone was churning cards furiously, we were all disrupting each other’s hands which meant we ended up having to churn again on the next turn too.  Eventually, this seemed to dawn on us collectively and we all started producing what we had rather than trying to get the perfect hand first.  With a couple of good hands early on Burgundy was also the first to sell and everyone else struggled to catch up.

Cheesonomics
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine eventually managed to sell some of his goats and Blue, the last to convert cheese to cash, shifted a large batch of Scandinavian (yellow) cheese and take a massive fifteen curds.  It was all way too little and much too late though:  the game suddenly ended and Burgundy’s excellent start coupled with the fact that he’d managed to focus almost solely on both reindeer and yak yielded huge bonuses at the end.  Pine and Red had eventually spotted this and made a concerted effort to catch him, but Burgundy had just got too far ahead and won by two points with Pine in second.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Black and Purple had eschewed the opportunity to play Cheesonomics and settled down instead to play Mijnlieff (pronounced Mine-Leaf).  This “fancy noughts and crosses” game is played with beautiful little wooden tiles on a four by four wooden board.  the aim of the game is to form lines of three, but since there are different types of pieces and your opponent controlling where you can play it is much more strategic.  Each Player has eight pieces with two each of four different symbols where the different pieces dictate where the other player can put their next piece.  For example, when a Greek cross (or “+” symbol) is played, the next player must place his piece on an empty square in an orthogonal line from the piece just played.  Similarly, playing a saltire (or “×” symbol) forces the next player to place his piece in a diagonal line from the piece just played.

Mijnlieff
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thepackrat

Black managed to get a line of three, but Purple took the game with two lines of three and one of four giving her a total of four points to Black’s one.  Since the supposedly quick little “Feature Game” was still going, Black and Purple moved onto another game we know quite well, Splendor.  This is a game of chip-collecting and card development where players collect chips to buy gem cards which can then be used in lieu of chips.  More expensive cards are also worth points and the game end is triggered when one player reaches fifteen points and the round is completed to give everyone the same number of turns.  Points are also awarded for “nobles” which go to the first player to get a specific combination of gem cards and the player with the most points at the end is the winner.

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

The game was incredibly tight, but when Black was declared the winner, Purple looked slightly crest-fallen.  On closer inspection, they realised that they’d missed scoring one of her nobles.  Purple had managed to take two of the three available picking up both Isabel of Castille (awarded for four each of opals and diamonds) and Anne of Brittany (awarded for three each of emeralds, sapphires and diamonds).  This left them on sixteen all and a draw, though on closer inspection there is a tie-breaker, so arguably Black took it as he had the fewest cards in his display.

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

Since Cheesonomics had finally come to an end as well, we had a lot of options on what to play next.  Half the group weren’t staying late, so we decided to play something short as a group before splitting up again into two groups (one of “light-weights” and one of “dirty late-night stop-outs”).  Looking for something to play seven, our choices were limited, and as is often the case in our group, we settled on our old favourite, 6 Nimmt!.  In the first round Black and Magenta were vying for the wooden spoon taking a total of twenty-four nimmts each.  Unusually, Burgundy, though high scoring, was some way behind the race for the bottom, only taking fifteen points.  Both Red and Blue kept a clean sheet so the question was which of them were going to be able to keep their score down in the second round too.  In the end though, both quickly started picking up cards and it was Purple who took the glory, finishing with just three nimmts over the two rounds, her second win of the evening (and only robbed of a third by a tie-breaker nobody knew existed).

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

With the fun filler over, the “light-weights” looked for a similarly light game to finish, but in the end, settled on Splendor, as it was still out and Magenta and Red were very familiar with it.  This game was a very difficult one as all the cards in the second row needed lots of sapphires which were scarce throughout.  Magenta tried to work round the problem by collecting nobles, but everyone struggled.  For several rounds, Red was very close to the fifteen points needed to end the game and Magenta had four points available on a reserved card, but could not get the last ruby to buy it.  In the end, but it was Pine, who was new to the game, who finally put everyone out of their misery, ending the game with seventeen points, three points clear of Red.

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

On the neighbouring table, after a short debate, the “late-night stop-outs” settled on Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King as their longer game.  We’ve played it a couple of times before and it is hugely popular with the group.  Borrowing heavily from tile-laying games like Carcassonne, Isle of Skye is a much deeper game without adding an awful lot to the rules.  The idea is that players draw three tiles from a bag and and then secretly choose one to discard and set prices for the other two.  This is done by placing the tiles in front of a screen and a discard token and money for the player’s stash behind.  The money remains in place for the duration of the round, unless the corresponding tile is purchased by another player.  This mechanism is very clever as if nobody else wants the tile, then the player uses the money to purchase it themselves.  Thus, it is critically important to correctly evaluate the worth of the tile, depending on whether it is most desirable to sell it or keep it.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

The other clever part of the game is the scoring:  This is mostly carried out at the end of each of the six rounds.  At the start of the game, four scoring tiles are drawn at random and these are used in different combinations at the end of the rounds in such a way that each appears a total of three times, but only one is used in the first round while three are used in the last.  We included the the extra tiles from the 2015 Brettspiel Advent Calendar in the draw mix and one of them  came up. The four tiles were:  points for animals next to farms (A), extra scroll scoring from the Advent Calendar (B), points for each tile with a road that is connected to a castle (C) and points for each enclosed region (D).  Inevitably, everyone started out desperate for animals and farms, but since these scored in rounds one, three and five, all of a sudden they fell out of favour.

Isle Of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image by boardGOATS

Despite having loads of cash, Burgundy really struggled to get the tiles he wanted particularly as everyone else kept buying them off him.  In contrast, Blue didn’t do too badly for tiles, but always seemed to be running out of money.  This was exacerbated by the fact that she didn’t get any of the “catch-up cash” given out from the start of round three.  It is only the number of players in front of them that dictates how much money players get (not how far behind they lag), but the amount can really add up: a player who is consistently at the back in a four player game will net an extra thirty sovereigns over the course of the game compared with a player who leads throughout.  Theoretically, the difference in position between the first and last player could remain just one point throughout, so there is an art to being “just behind”, in the same way as there is an art to being at the back in Colosseum (which was our “Feature Gamelast time).  Clearly this time Burgundy had the knack, and Blue didn’t.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

While Burgundy and Blue were struggling with their respective finance issues, Purple quietly plugged away collecting barrels and brochs, while Black ended up with ships and when the corresponding scrolls turned up, they looked to be well placed, until Black ran out of money and a critical tile was taken from him in the final round.  Despite her lack of money, however, Blue didn’t over-reach herself and managed to enclose her scrolls early giving her extra points at the end, but also for the Brettspiel Advent Calendar scoring tile during the game.  Nearly bankrupting herself in the early rounds for those animals now proved worth it as she raked in the points for the scrolls she had enclosed.  Enclosing scrolls was the key in this game as the other player to succeed in this area was Purple who finished a highly creditable second after a barn-storming evening.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

We had a little over half an hour left, so we decided we could fit in one last game.  We couldn’t afford to spend too long thinking about it.  Since Black expressed an interest in Karuba as he’d heard good things about it and Blue assured everyone that it wouldn’t take the forty minutes claimed on the box, we decided to give it a go.  This is a game that Blue and Pink bought at Essen last year and is very similar to Das Labyrinth des Pharao which they picked up at the same time on behalf of Black and Purple.  In the event, Karuba did take just about forty minutes, but that included setting up and teaching.  The game is a bit of a cross between bingo and a tile-laying solitaire.  The idea is that every player has the same number of numbered tiles which the players simultaneously place when the number is called.  Unlike Das Labyrinth des Pharao, the tiles the orientation is fixed, which narrows down the number of possibilities and helps to reduce “analysis paralysis”.  Both games are loosely themed with explorers, but in Karuba they are crossing the jungle to find treasure rather than exploring a pyramid.

Karuba
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each player has set of four coloured explorer meeples and matching coloured pyramids, with the aim being to get the explorers to the corresponding pyramids by laying tiles to make a path.  Everyone begins with the same layout (chosen collectively) and players score points for getting their meeples to their matching temples first.  Everyone draws the tiles in the same order, since the “caller” (Blue, in this case), draws their tiles at random and calls out the number for everyone else to play too.  Once the number has been called, each player can either place the tile on the board or discard it and move an explorer along a path where the distance corresponds to the number of exits on the tile discarded (i.e. two, three or four squares).  Some tiles have crystals or gold nuggets next to the path and an explorer who stops on the tile gets to pick up the treasure which are worth points at the end of the game.

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

Our explorers all ended up a long way from their pyramids, so sharing a common route was essential and it was just the logistics of how to do it that everyone had to work out.  With time at a bit of a premium, Blue didn’t hang about and kept the tile drawing moving quickly.  Burgundy got a bit carried away picking up crystals before getting his explorers in a tangle (the paths are too narrow for meeples to pass each other).  Purple, for whom spacial awareness does not come naturally, unfortunately managed to completely cut off one of her explorers and Black got into a bit of a tangle too before he managed to extricate himself from the mess and bring them home safely.  Blue, the only one to have experience with the game neglected picking up crystals and got three of her explorers home first netting an unassailable fifteen points, in a game that definitely benefits from experience of how to balance crystals and getting to temples.  While packing up, we discussed the game and the fact that it is likely to be one of the nominees for the Spiel des Jahres award this year given the lack of other good competition.

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

Learning Outcome:  GOATS like cheese, but they like whisky more…

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.