Tag Archives: Das Labyrinth des Pharao

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.