Tag Archives: Dobble

Boardgames in the News: Asmodee For Sale‽

Over the last few years Eurazeo have developed Asmodee from a small French games company primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble, into an industrial conglomerate swallowing up the likes of Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, and Lookout Spiele.  In the process, Asmodee added some of the most high profile modern boardgames to their portfolio, including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, SplendorDead of Winter, Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and as of this weekLove Letter.  Speculation as to the end result has been rife, here and elsewhere.  Indeed, three months ago we raised the question:

…it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?

Reuters now reports that according to un-named sources, the answer is, “Sell Asmodee”.  Apparently, investment bankers have been hired to run a sale process which they claim could value the company at over €1.5 billion (quite a return for Eurazeo who originally paid €143 million for Asmodee in November 2013).  As yet, there is no credible information as to who the potential buyers may be, but if the news that Asmodee is to be sold is true, there will no doubt be plenty of speculation over the coming weeks and months.  Possibilities range from a major toy manufacturer like Hasbro or Mattel wanting to add expand their range of boardgames, to venture capitalists companies going for maximum short term profits, leading to reduced quality and increased prices.  No doubt, time will tell…

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

Boardgames in the News: What is Asmodee’s Grand Plan?

Four years ago, Eurazeo bought a small French games company called Asmodee from the investment firm, Montefiore.  Asmodee were a small company hitherto primarily known for a clever little kids game called Dobble.  With the financial might of their parent company behind them, over the next few years, Asmodee proceeded to gobble up many larger, well-established companies, including Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games and most recently, Lookout Spiele.  Those companies produced some of the best known modern games including Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Agricola and Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.  Not content with that, they also acquired the rights to the English language version of the Settlers of Catan (now known simply as “Catan”) and all the related Catan games as well as gobbling up a number of smaller and/or newer companies like Space Cowboys (producers of Splendor and Black Fleet) and Plaid Hat Games (producers of Dead of Winter and Mice and Mystics) and entering into a distribution agreement with many others.  There are now very few games companies of any substance that are not somehow tangled in the Asmodee web.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

The last major purchase was F2Z Entertainment in 2016, and since then it has been relatively quiet.  With the new year comes a new wave of acquisition, however, so at the end of January Asmodee announced that they were in exclusive negotiations with Rebel.  Rebel is a relatively small, Polish company responsible for games like K2 as well as Polish editions of many popular games like 7 Wonders and Codenames.  Perhaps more importantly, Rebel also produces the Polish language versions of many of the Asmodee games and is the largest distributor in Poland.  And Poland is a big country, smaller than France or Germany, but bigger than Italy and the UK,  globally Poland is the thirty-forth largest country by population.  That is a lot of Poles and they do like playing board games in Poland.

K2
– Image used with permission
of boardgamephotos

This announcement was almost immediately followed by the bombshell that Asmodee had acquired all the residual assets from Mayfair and with it, Lookout Spiele. Although this is by far the largest deal in recent months, Asmodee have not been resting on their laurels and there has been a lot going on behind the scenes.  In December last year they announced that Esdevium was to be renamedAsmodee UK” bringing them in line with the “Asmodee North America” and “Asmodee Canada” brands.  At around the same time, Eurazeo announced that French publisher Purple Brain Créations would be joining the Asmodee Group.  Furthermore, they have also been streamlining their distribution network in North America.  Having reduced the number of distributors they deal with to five in 2015, in June last year Asmodee North America announced an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors, effectively creating a monopoly of supply within the USA.  This coupled with their Minimum Advertised Price policy (or MAP) gives them a stranglehold on the US market in a way that would never be allowed in Europe.  Whether they are planning to take that one step further and acquire Alliance themselves still remains to be seen, but that looks like a real possibility.  Finally, they have been pushing in a new direction, developing electronic versions of some of the most popular games through their studio, “Asmodee Digital“.

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

So what is Asmodee‘s Grand Plan?  Where will it all end?  Well, there are still a couple of other large manufacturers out there that are not yet part of Asmodee.  Looking at the companies they have already absorbed there is a clear trend: they typically have one particular feature that Asmodee are interested in.  In the case of Days of Wonder, that was the Ticket to Ride series, with Z-man Games it was Pandemic and Carcassonne, and with Rebel, it was probably their distribution network that caught the eye of the executives at Asmodee.  Going forward, the most obvious targets are probably Rio Grande Games, Czech Games EditionQueen GamesHans im Glük and maybe 2F, or Pegasus Spiele (who have just announced a partnership with Frosted Games).  For example, it would be surprising if Rio Grande Games have not been approached given the popularity of games like Dominion and Race/Roll for the Galaxy.  Similarly, Czech Games Edition are a small company with some very juicy morsels including Galaxy Trucker, Dungeon Lords/Petz, and the hugely successful Spiel des Jahres winner, Codenames.

Codenames
– Image by boardGOATS

Ultimately they may or may not add some or all of these to the Greater Asmodee Empire, but it is clear that at some point, eventually, there will be nothing left worth taking over and growth of the company will plateau, so what happens then?  And this is the crux of the matter. Some have speculated that the aim is to add Hasbro to Asmodee’s ever growing dominion, but Hasbro has a market value of $11.9 billion—Asmodee are mere minnows in comparison.  On the other hand, the parent company, Eurazeo are worth approximately $5.7 billion, which at least puts them in the same ball park, although even they are small by comparison.  According to the “Vision” page on the Eurazeo website:

The purpose of Eurazeo is to identify, accelerate and enhance the transformation potential of the companies in which it invests, even long after its exit. An active and committed shareholder, Eurazeo assists its holdings in the long term – 5 to 7 years – with control over exit timing. An extensive role enabling it to combine business development and corporate social responsibility.

So, it would seem that Eurazeo is not looking to hold onto Asmodee for the long haul, instead they will be looking to maximise Asmodee’s growth and then make their exit, probably in the next two to five years.  So the big question is, how are Eurazeo going to make their “controlled exit”?  With this in mind it seems unlikely that acquiring Hasbro is on the agenda, but making Asmodee attractive to Hasbro just might be…

Hasbro
– Image from twitter.com

6th September 2016

Pink (making one of his rare appearances) arrived first with Red and Magenta, closely followed by Blue and then Burgundy.  So, with the food order done, we scratched about for something quick to play when Red suggested a little card game called Unter Spannung (aka 7 Ate 9).  This was a game she had picked up in Germany a week earlier when she’d been travelling and had found herself unable to resist spending all her money in a toy shop.  Although the rules were in German, Red and Blue had managed to come up with a translation and had played it quite extensively when they had been away in Switzerland for work.  Neither Red nor Blue speak any German, so they weren’t certain that they were playing correctly, but they had found it to be fun all the same and taught everyone else the same way.

Unter Spannung
– Image by boardGOATS

They described Unter Spannung as “Dobble with maths” and basically, the idea is that each player starts with a hand of four cards and a deck of cards that they must try to get rid of.  Each card has a number on the corner (the face value) and a modifier in the centre (of the form ±1, ±3 or ±3).  The game begins with a single face up card in the centre and simultaneously everyone tries to play a card where the face value matches the total for the centre card (i.e. the face value plus or minus the modifier).  Thus, if the card in the middle is 8±1, players can play any card with a face value of seven or nine.  The snag is that cards are only numbered one to ten, so the the maths gets a little more tricky.  For example, 8±3 is five or eleven, but since there is no eleven, it becomes one.  Simple enough, though at the lower end things become more difficult as negative numbers don’t simply become positive, rather, zero becomes ten and any negative must be subtracted from this.  So, 1±3 is four or minus two which in turn becomes eight…

Unter Spannung
– Image by boardGOATS

Like Dobble, cards are placed simultaneously in a frantic rush and the card then played becomes the new top card, which causes mayhem when someone has just got there first.  Unlike Dobble, players start with a hand of four cards but can add cards whenever they want, so as soon as there is a bit of a lull in placing cards everyone frantically draws cards from their deck.  The first player to get rid of all their cards (hand and deck) is the winner.  Although the game nominally only plays four, we added an extra and just played a slightly short round.  Red and Blue had an inevitable advantage having played before, and everyone else struggled to get their heads round it.  The first round went to Red who stomped her authority on the game early on.  Then Burgundy’s food arrived which he used as an excuse to duck out of the second round which Blue took having warmed up a little.

Unter Spannung
– Image by boardGOATS

With food and gamers arriving thick and fast, there was a brief hiatus, before we split into three groups.  The first group (Black and Purple) began their belated supper while Red, Blue, Pink and Magenta began the “Feature Game”, which was The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction.  This is a fairly short resource conversion card game based on The Manhattan Project boardgame.  In this simpler, card game version, players are firstly mining to create yellowcake, then purifying the yellowcake to get uranium which they can then use to make a bomb.  Players start with a hand of five cards, each of which is dual function, providing either an action or a people.  In order to get the yellowcake players need people to do the mining and then a mining card.  There are several different types of people:  labourers, engineers, scientists, etc.  These can be provided directly by cards, or using people and location cards to generate larger numbers or people with different skills. For example, a University can be used to create engineers or scientists.  Combining these with enrichment plant cards and yellowcake gives players uranium which in turn allows players to claim one of the face up bomb cards.  When acquired, these can be augmented by the addition of a bomb-loading card which also comes at a price.

The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction
– Image by boardGOATS

All the cards come in a range of input requirements and outputs, but in general, the more expensive cards give richer rewards.  There are always several bomb cards available and the game end is triggered when one player achieves a total of ten megatonnes of bomb (including any bomb-loading cards).  The rules were a little bit difficult to disentangle somehow so it took us a while to really get to grips with what should have been a fairly simple game and there was a high chance that the player who understood first would win.  In the event, luck played a fairly large part too as there are additional special cards.  These are important as the hand-limit of five cards is quite restrictive and the special cards can enable players to get extras. It was Pink who managed to get the first bomb card, although Red and Magenta both had substantial piles of uranium and yellowcake respectively.  Then from no-where, Blue suddenly built a seven megatonne bomb, quickly followed by Red and Magenta.  It was all too late though as Pink finished the game and with it comprehensively won.  In truth this isn’t really the sort of theme our group usually go for, and with a fairly heavy slice of luck and slightly rough roles we made heavy weather of it.  That said, we felt it was definitely worth playing again.

The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction
– Image by boardGOATS

Meanwhile, Green, Ivory, Pine and Burgundy played Imhotep, one of the nominees for the Spiel des Jahres this year.  We played it a few weeks back in July and it went down quite well, so since Green wasn’t able to stay for long it was a good opportunity for a second outing.  In this game, players take the role of builders in Egypt who are trying to emulate Imhotep.  The premise of the game is very simple.  On their turn, the active player chooses one of four actions:  procure new stones (very large wooden blocks); load stones on a boat; sail a boat to a monument; or play an action card.  Players can only store a maximum of five stones and when they procure stones they can collect a maximum of three.  Stones are loaded onto ships one at a time, but which of the five possible destinations the boats end up at and the order they are unloaded in is vital, so timing and planning is everything and, as we discovered last time, other players have the ability to screw up even the best laid plans.  Thus, the challenge is to work out how to accomplish strategies when the boats rarely go where you want them to.  There were two players who were new to the game this time, but it is easy to explain and play, although it is much much harder to work out where to place cubes in the boats and when to move things.  It usually takes a couple of rounds for the game to settle in and for patterns to emerge, and this time was no different.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Once the dust from the early quarry blocks had settled, Green had a one block lead in the obelisk (he had used the Obelisk to good effect last time out and narrowly won that game), Pine already had a good area in the Burial Chamber, Burgundy was big in the pyramid and Ivory had a smattering of cubes in most places.  When a boat with a single cube space appeared, Green decided to take a punt on it and see where he ended up. Surprisingly it stayed put until all the other boats had been docked, leaving it with just two choices: the Pyramid for four points or the obelisk to extend Green’s lead there to two cubes. Pine was first to have to make that decision, and chose to defer it by cutting more blocks from the quarry, Ivory and Burgundy followed and did likewise leaving Green with a free choice.  His supply of blocks was looking a bit thin though compared to the others and so he also chose to re-stock leaving Pine no choice since his sled was full.  After deliberation between the others (no-one wanted Green’s advice) he chose the obelisk and Green was pleased with two cube lead as he thought it would be quite easy to maintain.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

As the game progressed everyone became more wily at positioning stones on the boats, and Pine was prevented from increasing the size of his Burial Chamber group and no-one else could get a larger grouping than two either!  The ‘Wall’ received a number of cubes this game, including quite a few of Ivory’s, and eventually it reached the third level.  Burgundy continued to dominate the Pyramid, while the the obelisk continued to grow and Burgundy was began to make inroads to Green’s lead, while Pine kept a watching brief in third.  By the latter part of the game everyone was so focused on their own strategies that they often failed to notice Burgundy attempting to dominate one particular boat.  The first time he did this he managed to collect two purple statue cards in one turn and the second time he got two cubes into the obelisk (although Green jumped aboard at the last minute to limit the damage). In the penultimate round, Burgundy had got three stones on a four stone ship.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Green was next and a quick count suggested that if this were to go to the obelisk it would lose him the lead.  So, he felt he had no choice; that boat had to dock somewhere else and he chose the Pyramid as the least damage, though it still netted Burgundy six points.  That gave Pine an opening to get a couple of his stones to the obelisk so that he overtook Burgundy, pushing him into second.  Going into the final round, the writing was on the wall.  Burgundy could no longer win the Obelisk win, and as long as Green placed a stone on the same boat as Pine, he was guaranteed the full fifteen points for first place (as last time).  Otherwise it was mostly just a mopping up exercise to get the most points possible with the last stones.  Both Burgundy and Ivory had managed two or three purple statue cards and so the final scoring was tight.  Despite being the only one without a green bonus scoring card (which gives points for the total number of cubes in the different areas), Green still finished a couple of points ahead of Pine in what was another close and enjoyable game.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

With both games finishing, Black and Purple having consumed their supper and Green heading off, it looked like it was change.  However, in the event, Green was directly replaced by Black and Purple and the other group began another game of Imhotep.  The game has an in-built expansion as each location board has a second side with slightly more involved building options.  For example, while Side A has just one large Pyramid, Side B has three smaller Pyramids and players choose which one to add their cube to.  Pink, who had played Side A at the UK Games Expo, was keen to give the alternative options a try.  It turned out that these actually add quite a bit to the complexity as they add another layer to the decision making.  This is because instead of just considering what everyone would get at each location, players have to consider what everyone will do at each location and what this will give them.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

So for example, instead of just looking at where all the cubes will go in the Pyramid and what they will score, the active player now has to consider which Pyramid each player will pick and what that leaves for everyone else.  For this reason, it possibly wasn’t the best choice for a first game.  As a result, as they had not played it before, both Red and Magenta struggled with trying to work out what they were trying to do and what strategies would work best.  In the early stages, it was all very tentative.  Instead of just building the highest, on Side B, points are awarded throughout the game for “mini-obelisks” containing just three blocks, though the early mini-obelisks are worth more.  Blue got an early start with Pink following in second place.  Meanwhile, Red and Magenta scooped up some of the early Market cards, correctly thinking they were important, hoping that it would allow them to learn what else might be a good strategy.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

It was in the third round it became apparent that we had a problem on our hands as Pink had taken a bit of a run-away lead in the Temple.  When playing with Side A players add cubes to a row of five blocks, with additional blocks going into the second and eventually third rows.  Points are scored at the end of the round for each stone delivered that is visible from above.  With Side B, blocks are added in  the same way, but the bonus are different.  Thus, the first “space” on the alter will give one point or two extra wooden blocks.  Other spaces give Market cards and even two points making it quite lucrative.  Unfortunately, for the rest of us, Pink had somehow managed to steal a march on the rest of us.  He then made a point of sending a small boats there which meant his early blocks continued to work for him well beyond their usual lifetime.  This was not helped by the fact that Pink also contrived to ensure that the little boats contained his blocks, so any that were covered were covered by his own blocks so he continued to benefit. Blue, having played the game before could see the problem and managed to muscle in a little, but it was slow and Pink stormed into the lead with nothing anyone else could do about it.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Blue and Magenta managed to break Pink’s strangle-hold on the Temple, while Red began to fall behind but continued to collect purple Statue cards stacking up points for the end of the game.  Magenta gradually began to dominate in the Burial Chamber too.  With Side A, the blocks are placed in position in strict rotation and the each player scores points for their largest contiguous area according to the Triangular Number Series.  With Side B, however, each row of blocks is evaluated independently and eight points awarded to the person with the most blocks in the row, with four points for second place and two for third.  With three rows, a player who goes into this heavily can pick up a lot of points which is exactly what Magenta did, winning two and coming placing on the third as well.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

With the game coming to a close, we all thought Pink had it in the bag, but we still had the end game scoring cards to count up.  Sadly, Red’s Statues didn’t get her quite as many as we thought, but it was very close with both Pink and Magenta finishing with forty-two points.  Blue just managed to squeak ahead though finishing with forty-three in what turned out to be yet another tight game.  So that was three out of three as it had been close first time we played as well when Green had won, taking the Obelisk.  This led some of us to speculate whether the Obelisk is perhaps a little too powerful.  Although it has featured heavily in all three games, the games have all been exceptionally close so the jury is still out.  Now that we know it is a potential game changer though, next time there might be more blocks placed there and a greater battle for supremacy. In turn that could let someone else slip through and score heavily elsewhere which could make it interesting.  It’ll probably get another outing soon as we can’t let Green remain unbeaten.

Imhotep
– Image by boardGOATS

While the second game of Imhotep was going on, at Blue’s suggestion, the other group got on with Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King.  This won the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year and has proved very popular with our group as there is quite a bit of variability in the set up ensuring the games remain interesting.  Despite the fact that she wasn’t playing, it was Blue’s suggestion as she knew that Black, Burgundy and Pine liked it a lot and thought that Ivory might appreciate it too.  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.

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

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.  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 final round.  This time, the first two scoring tiles drawn both rewarded mountain ranges, so although this could have made for an interesting, competitive game, in the interests of balance, we decided to chuck them back and start again.

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

The four scoring tiles were: five points for the player with the most money and two for the player with the next most (A); two points for each cow on the road connected to the castle (B); three points for each vertical row with more than three tiles (C) and one point for each completed terrain (D).  Burgundy started collecting cattle while Black went for sheep.  Maybe it was because Black got there first, or perhaps it was because someone misheard, but Pine (who can usually be counted on to go for a woolly fleece) tried to use ships to build his score.  Purple isn’t a great whiskey drinker, but as usual, she built her strategy on a foundation of barrels.  This didn’t leave much for Ivory, but there is always someone who struggles with a lack of cash and someone else who seems unnecessarily flush.  This time it was Ivory who made a killing on his tiles and with money in the scoring tiles it guaranteed him a solid number of points to build on.  It was a another close game  with only five points between first and third.  It was Burgundy who just pipped Black to finish in front however, with Pine a close third.

Unter Spannung
– Image by boardGOATS

Red and Magenta were about to make a move, but with Isle of Skye still going, they stuck about for a couple more rounds of Unter Spannung, which Red and Blue took again, though it was a bit closer this time.  As the other group finished and Ivory headed off too, the rump were left to play one last game.  Black had been keen to play Pi mal Pflaumen, but had missed out when it was the “Feature Game” a few weeks back, so he was very keen to give it a go.  This game is a relatively simple little card game, but one that we struggled with the rules for last time and contrived to make a bit of a mess of this time too. Pi mal Pflaumen (or “Oh my Plums!” as we call it in a sideways reference to another little card game, Oh My Goods!), is a trick taking game with elements of set collecting and lovely artwork.  The idea is that each card features a fruit, a number and most also have some sort of special action.  Each player begins with a hand of cards and, starting with the start player, everyone takes it in turns to play one card.  Then, the player who played the highest value card chooses one of the cards which they place face up in a tableau in front of them, before they carry out the action associated with the card.

Pi Mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

There are several different special actions, it could be steal a card from another player; take the “watchdog” card (which guards against other players stealing cards), or take three “pi” cards.  Instead of an action, some cards indicate a scoring condition and the points awarded for achieving it.  These are of the form of, for example, ABC or AAA, indicating three different fruit or three identical fruit respectively.  The more fruit involved and the more similar the fruit, the more points they are worth.  When a player owns both the scoring card and the matching Fruit cards, they are all removed from their display and put to one side to score at the end of the game.  The game is played over three rounds and winner is the player with the most points at the end.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Last time we played, we had a fairly extensive discussion about the rules.  The rules are a little unclear:  they clearly state that “when a card is taken you must immediately carryout its action”, but they don’t make it clear whether this applies to claiming points on “Fruit Mix” cards as well.  We couldn’t remember how we played last time, but this time we played that points could only be claimed when the card was taken (with cards in the player’s tableau used to fulfill the condition).  In an added complication, we also had to decide what implications this had for cards that players have stolen.  The rules state that “you can immediately use a stolen card to create a Fruit Mix”.  Initially we presumed that this applied only to the fruit mix cards, but a little doubt began to set in.  Checking the rules fora online after the event suggested that Fruit Mix cards from the tableau could also be claimed, and the key phrase in the rules stated that “one or more Fruit Mixes” can be claimed when a card is taken, which is only possible if cards in the tableau are used, but this only became apparent some time after the game.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

It was another tight game with everyone claiming some low scoring Fruit Mixes in the first round, but Burgundy took a slight lead making him a target for the rest of the game.  In the second and third round, the value of the fruit mixes on the cards increases adding a bit of all or nothing element to the game.  For example, Blue had spent much of the game with low cards and, as a result had ended up taking the last card more than her fair share.  The last card comes with a bonus “Plum” card though, so if she had managed to pick up the twenty-five, she could have claimed a massive twelve points for a total of four Plum cards.  Purple did her best to help Blue out, but Black had a large pile of π cards and with Burgundy and Pink’s help was able to control things.  In the end it was Pink who finished with the most points, just three clear of Blue with Black in third place.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Well balanced games also make for tight results.

Boardgames in the News: Asmodee on the March Again?

It’s been quite quiet recently, but summer is now here and with it, the silly-season of take-overs and mergers, which inevitably means Asmodee are at it again.  Asmodee, (originally known as Siroz), started out as a small French game publishing and distribution company, specialising in the family market.  Their best-known product was probably Dobble, though there were others too.  In 2007, the investment firm, Montefiore acquired 60% of the company and invested €120 million to finance Asmodee’s international growth.  Their expansion history began a bit like this:

Meanwhile, the Canadian F2Z Entertainment, the parent of company of Pretzel Games, also own Filosofia Éditions (who bought Z-Man Games in 2011) and bought the U.S. company Plaid Hat Games last year.  Then, in January 2014, the private equity company Eurazeo bought 83.5% of Asmodee and the mad expansion began all over again, but this time in earnest:

Last summer we speculated how long it would be before Asmodee turned their attention to F2Z Entertainment with their enticing range of games including Pandemic and  Carcassonne.  Well, last week, Asmodee announced that it has entered into exclusive discussions to acquire F2Z Entertainment with closure of the acquisition expected to take place in the coming months.  Who will be next, Rio Grande Games perhaps?

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

12th January 2016

With Red, Magenta and Blue moaning about work and only Burgundy waiting for real food, when Pine rolled up we began straight away with our “Feature Game”, the light filler, Las Vegas. This is a very simple dice game, but actually quite a lot of fun.  On their turn, each player begins by rolling their dice, then assigning some of them to one of the six casinos.  Each casino is numbered one to six and has a jackpot of over $50,000, drawn at random from a deck of money.  Thus, each jackpot could be anything from $50,000 to $180,000 and comprise one to five notes.  On their turn, players must use all the dice of one number to bet on the casino of that number.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card. The player with the most money after four rounds is the winner.  The snag is that before any money is handed out, any dice leading to a draw are removed. It is this rule that makes the game interesting, raising the decisions above the trivial and, in our view, making it a better and much more fun game than Qwixx which we played two weeks ago.  Although the game only plays five (without the Boulevard expansion), Blue had added an extra set of purple dice just in case, so when Green walked in just before the game started, he was able to join in.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

In the early part of the round, each player has to decide whether to conserve dice or whether to make a statement and go in big.  As the round progresses, players must choose where to place their bets then try to finesse their position before being forced to place their last die or dice based solely on chance.  The factors that go into the decision include the value of the rewards available, the current position and the number of notes as well as the probabilities of other players interfering.  The probabilities are non-trivial too, because rolling multiples can change the number of dice available for the next roll.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ckirkman

In the first round, everyone made the same mistake and committed too many dice too early, but after that, we all got the hang of it and the game was quite close.  Players keep their winnings hidden, but since everyone had had rounds with lean pickings as well as generous ones, we all felt we were in with a chance.  The last round began with it all to play for and everyone taking it in turns to roll lots of sixes.  At the end of the game, we announced our totals in turn:  Green finished with $260,000, Pine with $250,000, Burgundy and Blue tied with £270,000, but Magenta just pipped them with $280,000.  Red, however, took longer to count up her cash for good reason and finished well clear with $360,000.

Las Vegas
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor joeincolorado

With the arrival of Black and Purple, we decided to split into two groups.  The only game that everyone really wanted to play was Isle of Sky: From Chieftain to King, so since we only had the one copy, five went for that leaving the three others to find something else to play.  Isle of Skye is a tile laying game where players play a sort of solitaire Carcassonne, bidding for tiles and scoring a the end of each of the six rounds.  We’ve only played the game once on a Tuesday in November, but it has proven to be very popular at other local meetings too, so everyone playing had played before and the game was quick to get going.

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

Burgundy had played it a few times and, unusually, generally seems to struggle with this game.  This time he started well, and took the lead from the start, unfortunately however, he struggled to pick up scrolls, so suffered in the end game scoring.  One of the peculiarities of this game is the fact that from round three, at the start of the round players get one extra gold coin per player in front of them on the score track, increasing to four extra coins by the final round.  This really adds up, and a player who takes advantage of this bonus can have a large impact on the score track.  Black made hay on the bonus sitting at the back for most of the game, however, he failed to use the gold and finished with fifty-one unspent coins.

Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Punkin312

Between Burgundy at the front and Black at the rear, Purple, Pine and Magenta were jostling for position.  Without sheep and cattle featuring strongly in the scoring tiles this time, Pine felt he would struggle, but he made a surge for the front in the final scoring.  Magenta who had spent a lot of the game at the back of the pack with Black gradually moved through the field in the later rounds and finished four ahead of Burgundy in joint first with Pine on sixty-six, with Pine taking it on the tie-breaker.

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

Meanwhile, Blue, Green and Red were playing an aggressive game of Citadels.  This is a slightly older, role selection game.  Everyone starts with a hand of district cards and the start player, “The King”, also has a hand of eight Character cards.   The Character cards are shuffled and one is placed face down blind.  The King can then choose one Character card and pass the rest on to the next player.  The cards are drafted in this way until (in the three player game) everyone has two and the remaining card joins the first card, face down to one side.  Thus, each player has two Character cards and each Character card has a number and a special ability.  “The King” then calls the characters in turn, by number and name, and the player who has that card then immediately carries out their turn.

Citadels
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor themilkcrate

A turn consists of either taking money or drawing two cards from the deck, then paying the monetary cost to build one of the district cards from their hand.  The game ends at the end of the round in which a player builds his eighth district card.  The scores are then added up with players receiving points for their buildings equalling the total cost to build them, plus bonuses for being the first player to build eight district cards, bonuses for having at least one district in each of the five colours and for achieving a total of eight buildings before the game ends.  We played with some of the Characters from the Dark City expansion so “The Witch” replaced “The Assassin”, “The Tax Collector” replaced “The Thief” and “The Navigator” replaced “The Architect”.  We also chose a random selection of the valuable “purple buildings”, a factor that turned out to be quite critical to the game play in the end.

Citadels
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Nodens77

Blue took an early lead, building a couple of “purple buildings”, in particular, the very annoying Ball Room.  The “purple buildings are expensive to build, but generally come with some sort of special power, in the case of the Ball Room, if the owner is also The King, every player must say “Thanks, Your Excellency” before taking their turn otherwise it is forfeit.  Without “The Thief” in play, Blue was able to let her money build up and was hoping to build the Library, when Red played “The Magician” and swapped hands with her.  Unimpressed, in the next round Blue played the same trick, giving Red the apparently rather useless Armory in exchange.  To make sure Red didn’t nick it back, Blue built the Library quickly, her third purple building giving her a healthy lead though she, like Green was struggling to get the blue cards she wanted to pick up the bonus for having a building of each colour.  Green meanwhile was having other problems of his own, compounded by the fact that he forgot to be obsequious and therefore lost a turn.

Citadels
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

Red made persistent assaults on Blue, but it was when Blue had six district cards built and was trying to find a way to close out the game that Red decided to use that “rather useless Armory” to destroy Blue’s valuable Library.   Discussion ensued as Blue had originally decided to ditch the Armory as it was too restrictive, but Red wasn’t so sure.  Green resorted to looking it up on-line and found a wealth of discussion none of which really answered our questions.  After a brief hiatus, we decided to let Red go ahead as Blue was so far in front, although it wasn’t that far as it turned out.  Both Green and Blue hadn’t seen a blue district card all game so missed out on the three point bonus and, as Red completed her eighth building first, she also took an extra two points for that, finishing on thirty-seven.  Green and Blue tied for second place though arguably Green should not have been able to take his last turn since he forgot to “Thank, Her Excellency” again…

Citadels
– Image by boardGOATS taken from boardgamegeek.com

Citadels is one of those rare games that plays a wide player count, nominally from two to eight players.  However, while there is a consensus that it does not play all numbers equally well, the on-line jury is still out as to where its “sweet spot” is.  In fact, some people appear to think it is best with small numbers, while others prefer it with more players.  We’ve played Citadels a few times on a Tuesday, a couple of times with just two players, but also with five.  Blue and Green had been involved on each occasion and Blue in particular had quite enjoyed the game with just two players, but had hated it with five.  With two she felt it was a game where players could really try to get inside the head of their opponent whereas with five she felt it was horribly chaotic and difficult to follow what was going on.  Knowing this, Green had thought three might have some of the features of the head-to-head game while adding more dimension to the game play and, despite losing, Blue agreed, that three was an excellent number of players for this game.

Citadels
– Image by BGG contributor lolcese

While Citadels was finishing, the other players filled the time with a couple of rounds of an old favourite, Dobble.  The first round was a warm up which Magenta ducked out of as she has a bit of a reputation as the “Dobble Queen”.  This was played with the conventional “Towering Inferno” variant, where players call out matches and grab cards from the central pile.  In the second round, Magenta joined in so “The Poisoned Gift” variant was chosen, otherwise known as “Gang up on Magenta”.  In this version, instead of grabbing cards from the middle for yourself, you match them and stick them on someone else’s pile (usually Magenta’s), with the aim to finish with as few cards as possible.  Everyone accordingly rained cards down on Magenta who duly lost with Black winning by one from Pine and Burgundy.

Dobble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Time was ticking on, so we decided to play a quick game of Saboteur.  This is a team game where you don’t know who your team mates are.  With eight players, there is a team of five or six Dwarves trying to find the treasure, and two or three Saboteurs, trying to stop them.  On their turn, the active player can play a tunnel card to progress towards the three possible treasure locations, play an action card or discard a card face down (a very Saboteur-like action).  The action cards come in a variety of flavours:  broken tool cards that are played in front of other players and prevent them from laying tunnel cards; tool cards than cancel out broken tool cards; map cards that allow players to look at one of the possible treasure locations to see whether it contains the gold or not, as well as rockfall cards that allow players to remove tunnel cards that have already been placed.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

The game is supposed to consist of three rounds with the winning team taking prize cards, however, last time we played, we decided that the addition of prizes meant the game inevitably outstayed its welcome.  We felt it would be better to play one round, and if we wanted, play a second, but treat them as separate games, which is exactly what happened this time.  In the first “game”, Magenta and Purple claimed the gold was at one side, while Black and Blue claimed it was in the middle – clearly we had two of our Saboteurs, but which pair looked guilty?

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

After a couple of rounds, Magenta showed her true colours and played a broken tool card in a Saboteur-like manner and she and Purple were promptly stomped on.  Suitably, after everyone had doubted him for so long, Black was the one to finally find the gold.  Green had had enough and headed off, but Pine, Red and Magenta agreed to stay for one more go.  This time Red decided to have a go at Pine from the very start – maybe it was the pointiness of his ears or the way he carried his pick axe, but she claimed he was definitely a Saboteur.  Everyone else was less quick to condemn, and before long it became clear that it was Red and Purple (again!) who were guilty and, although it was closer, the Dwarves still got to the gold first.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

With people leaving, there was just time for Black, Purple, Burgundy and Blue to squeeze in a quick game of The Game.  We started dreadfully, and two piles were very quickly closed off.  Somehow we managed to keep going though and, despite an appalling run of luck and a couple of us making dodgy decisions, Black was eventually able to draw the last card from the deck.  Playing just one card at a time made things a little easier, but we still had over twenty cards to get rid of.  Sadly, it was not to be; the poor start had done its damage and we finished with a total of eleven cards in hand.

The Game
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  When a game is *that* popular, bring it again!

Boardgames in the News: Asmodee Update – Taking Over Catan and Other Stories

A year ago, following their acquisition of Esdevium GamesLibellud, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight games, Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games we discussed the sudden expansion of the hitherto small French games company, Asmodée.  More recently, following a new contract with Queen Games for exclusive distribution rights in the USA and the ensuing restructuring of its three main US operations, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight games and Asmodee Editions to form a single entity, Asmodee North America, we wondered whether this growing monopoly would lead to price rises.  This concern arose, in particular, as from January 2016, distribution would be restricted to “speciality retailers” that have agreed to Asmodee North America’s “Speciality Retail Policy” including the prohibition of online sales.

Asmodee North America
– Image from Asmodee North America Press Release

Asmodee followed the initial press release with a second press release clarifying their position, in the form of a series of questions with answers. This did not completely allay many of the concerns, however, to the specific question, “…will you institute or impose official price floors or “minimum advertised price” policies”, they responded, “No”.  There has been a considerable speculation, but it seems clear from this “clarification” that although they intend to restrict “speciality retailers” to face-to-face transactions, this will not affect mass market outlets, such a Amazon, Target, or Barnes and Noble.  Another way of looking at it is that the medium-sized online vendors including, CoolStuffInc and Miniature Market (who are popular with US Geeks thanks to generous discounts), will no longer be able to sell Asmodee North America products, however, players like Amazon etc. are too big to be susceptible to their bully-boy tactics.  We will see what happens in the long run, but for the time being, so much for the end of 2015 press releases.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by boardGOATS

With the new year, there are new take-overs, and unsurprisingly, Asmodee are at the centre once again, this time announcing that they are taking over the production of the English language edition of Catan (formerly known as “The Settlers of Catan”)Celebrating its twentieth anniversary last year, The Settlers of Catan has been translated into thirty-five languages and is reported to have sold over twenty-three million copies worldwide.  As such is it one of the biggest names in the world of modern boardgames.  With this acquisition from Mayfair Games, Asmodee have also announced that they will launch a subsidiary, “Catan Studio”, dedicated to the creation of content for different media for the “Catan Universe”.  Catan Studio will be headed by Peter Fenlon, former CEO of Mayfair who will work with Catan GmbH and its partners on this development.

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

With this acquisition, it brings Catan, Ticket to Ride and Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game as well as the very popular card game, Dobble, all under the same roof.  So, what next?  Surely bringing together such a large slice of the modern gaming market makes Asmodee themselves a potential take over target.  In fact, perhaps the only question is whether the likes of Hasbro will make a move before or after Asmodee make their next acquisition.  Any bets on the future of Filosofia/Z-man Games with Pandemic and Carcassonne…?

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

Boardgames in the News: Will the Latest Consolidation Lead to Price Rises?

In February, following their acquisition of Esdevium GamesLibellud, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight games, Ystari Games, Asterion Press and Pearl Games we asked the question, “Are Asmodee Taking Over the World?”  As if to answer in the affirmative, in April, Asmodee announced the start of a new contract with Queen Games for exclusive distribution rights in the USA.  Since Asmodee has been the distributor for Queen Games in Germany, this made logistical sense.  However, other consequences of these consolidations are now becoming apparent.

Asmodee
– Image from forbes.com

This week, Asmodee issued a press release stating that from the 1st January 2016, games made available by its three main US operations, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight games and Asmodee Editions will be sourced from a single entity, Asmodee North America.  Furthermore, in the New Year, Asmodee North America will be adjusting its sales terms and reducing the number of its primary customers in the USA to just five authorised distributors.  From 1st April 2016, these authorised distributors will be restricted to selling Asmodee North America’s products to “speciality retailers” that have agreed to Asmodee North America’s “Speciality Retail Policy”.

Asmodee North America
– Image from Asmodee North America Press Release

This Speciality Retail Policy states that a “retailer must not sell or transfer … other than through face-to-face commercial resale exchange with end-users in retailer’s physical retail location(s) or at a physical extension of the retailer’s location at a consumer show/convention”.  Thus, all future sales will be restricted to bricks and mortar stores, effectively preventing the selling of Asmodee North America‘s products online.  This is not an end to online sales, however, as the press release goes on to say that “Asmodee North America will allow select merchants to service the online sales channel under a separate sales policy. Such select online merchants will either be supplied directly by Asmodee North America, or by appointed distributors acting under Asmodee North America’s related policy.”

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

Online speculation is rife that these measures have been put in place to prevent the deep discounting seen in the USA, and that the contracts the retailers will have to sign will include a commitment to sell at the list price, thus effectively price fixing by other means.  This has been carried out in the past by both Mayfair Games (the Catan brand) and Games Workshop (Warhammer etc.) who both have strict Speciality Retail Policies that restrict distribution, maintaining high prices.  This is all highly significant with the growth of modern boardgaming as Asmodee North America produce some of the most popular gateway games, in particular Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, Dixit, and Dobble as well as the newly reawakened Star Wars license.  It is not yet clear whether this will also have any effect on the distribution of Queen Games products in the USA.

– Image used with permission of BGG contributor adamfeldner

Asmodee North America has claimed these changes are because they are “committed to brick-and-mortar hobby market speciality retailers”.  On the other hand, in the FAQ that accompanied the statement, Asmodee North America state that even physical stores with an online presence are “limited to the channel of sale involving physical retail stores only”, which appears to belie this, since online sales are often what keeps “Bricks and Mortar” stores afloat.  The FAQ also states that “These policies currently affect our business in the US. Our Canadian operations will continue unaffected until notified otherwise.”  There is no mention of the EU, but it is likely that Esdevium, who already have something of a strangle-hold on the distribution of games in the UK, will continue to assert pressure on the market as they did at the start of this year.

– Image from wpn.wizards.com