Tag Archives: Dominion

Boardgames in the News: Twenty Awesome Games according to The Guardian

The Guardian boardgame section has produced a number of interesting articles over the last few months, including one about a French Scrabble champion who doesn’t speak French; an article discussing the impact of political boardgames, and a review of the cooperative war game, 7 Days of Westerplatte, where players take on roles of Polish defenders trying to save their city from attack in September 1939.

7 Days of Westerplatte
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Their latest article is entitled, “20 Awesome Board Games You May Never Have Heard Of” and as well as the inevitable usual suspects, there are indeed a number of even less widely known games.  Popular franchise games are included like spin-offs from A Game of Thrones and Firefly to catch the eye of the general public, but these have a good reputation amongst gamers too.  Twilight Struggle also makes its second newsworthy appearance in a month, as well as the slightly less well known gateway games, Dominion and 7 Wonders.

Twilight Struggle
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor killy9999

More interesting are some of the other inclusions.  For example, Survive: Escape from Atlantis! is an excellent game that is very easy to teach, but has a nasty edge, with players trying to save their meeples while encouraging monsters to attack everyone else’s.  Although it is a great game to play with teenagers and students, for some reason it very rarely makes this sort of list.  Similarly, newer games like the 2014 Pandemic spin-off, Pandemic: Contagion and this years’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Colt Express also get a mention.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

It’s not all light family fare either and games like the well regarded semi-cooperative game, Dead of Winter, make an appearance as well as older “Geek Fayre” like Netrunner and Civilisation.  Perhaps the biggest surprises though are Antiquity and Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia.  These are both much more obscure games:  Antiquity is produced in very small numbers by Splotter (and is currently out of print), and Euphoria is the product of a very successful KickStarter campaign by Stonemaier Games.  The inclusion of games off the beaten track, shows that the Guardian boardgames coverage is from people who know their subject matter much better than those at the Telegraph!  As such, these Guardian articles are always well worth a look and it will be interesting to see what comes of their quest to find the worst games people have played.

Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

11th August 2015

It was a quiet week, so unsure of how many people we would be, we started out with what was supposed to be something quick, our “Feature Game”, Port Royal.  This is a fairly light card game with elements of push your luck and and deck (or rather tableaux) building.  On their turn, the active player turns over the top card from the deck:  this could be a coloured Ship, or a Person.  The player then has two options, they can turn over another card and add it to the row, or take one of the face up cards.  They can continue turning over cards either until they choose to take one or until they go bust because they draw a Ship and the colour matches one that has already been revealed.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

When taken, the coloured Ships are immediately exchanged for money according to the number of coins shown on the card.  They also have a military value which is where the People cards come in.  The People cards cost money, but in general, yield both victory points and special powers.  For example, Sailors and Pirates give players a military strength.  If their strength matches that of a Ship, the active player may repel the Ship to avoid going bust.  There are also Settlers, Captains and Priests which are used to fulfill the requirements of Expeditions.  Expeditions are cards that are immediately put to one side when drawn and allow players to increase their number of victory points by trading People cards for the higher value Expedition card.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor jsper

There are other People cards too.  For example, the Governor awards players two extra coins if there are five or more cards on the table, and the Admiral allows players to take more than one card. Once the active player has taken their turn, then the next player can choose to take a card from the remaining face up cards, paying the active player one coin for the privilege.  Once everyone has had the chance to take a card, play passes to the next player.  The game end is triggered when one player hits twelve victory points and play continues until everyone has had the same number of active player turns.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The game has obvious elements of “push your luck card turning” like Incan Gold, dual purpose cards like Bohnanza, tableau building like 7 Wonders and Dominion, and set collecting like Splendor.  However, it also has other interesting features.  One of the most interesting aspects was the way that the appearance of some cards is delayed because they are tied up as currency.  This meant that in our game, the Tax Man didn’t appear at all for the first half of the game and then appeared several times in quick succession.  Similarly to Bohnanza, the composition of the deck also changes.  In Bohnanza, the deck shrinks dramatically and as all the rare cards are turned into money their rarity increases.  In Port Royal, it is the People cards that become rarer as they are played into harbours, and ships, which start off quite scarce, become increasingly common increasing the chances of going bust.

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Black and Purple started out collecting Settlers, Priests and Captain cards, hoping for an opportunity to upgrade the victory points with Expedition cards.  Blue and Burgundy eschewed Expeditions and instead went for the expensive People, with powerful actions.  That said, Burgundy struggled at the start, going bust in the first two rounds which left him penniless and hampered his ability to buy anything at all.  Meanwhile, Green was fighting just to get the cards he wanted before someone else pinched them.  Eventually, Purple took her second Expedition card and triggered the end of the game, but nobody else was close enough to threaten her position; Burgundy took second on a tie-break with Green, who both finished with nine victory points .

Port Royal
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The rules booklet was not the best, however, and there were a number of questions we had that went un-answered.  For example, we were unclear on how to combine the Admiral with either the Jester or the Governor.  The question was, since the Admiral allows a player to take two cards, does that mean they apply the Jester/Governor special powers twice?  On reflection, we felt the way we played (by a strict reading of the rules) was incorrect as it meant the combination was exceptionally powerful.  Similarly, could a player repel a card if it was the first of a colour to be drawn, or is it only the second card that can be repelled?  On balance, although it was a long way from being the “quick game” we expected, we all enjoyed it and felt it was a good game.  Green in particular was quite taken with the effect the dual-use of the cards had on the draw deck and everyone had had thoughts on how they could have done better, but it was fitting that the one who currently has to wear an eye-patch won the pirate game!

Snowdonia: The Daffodil Line
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor tonyboydell

After some debate, we decided that we wanted to play a deeper game next which meant we were quite limited as we didn’t have many five-player games.  We all enjoy Snowdonia, so since we’ve all played it before we thought we could fit it into the time we had left despite the prolonged setup time (not helped by the fact that Blue’s box contains most of two copies).  Unfortunately, we got side-tracked by the possibility of playing one of the alternative scenarios.  We started setting out The Daffodil Line and then we realised it only played four, so as the game is very tight anyhow we decided not to try to stretch it to five and broke the shrink-wrap on Britannia Bridge instead.

Snowdonia: Britannia Bridge
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor tonyboydell

Snowdonia is a very tight, worker placement game, where players have just two workers and an optional third if they have the required train and coal.  The game simulates building a railway, with players first choosing actions in turn order, then carrying out the actions in “action order”.  The actions include collecting resources from the stockyard, clearing rubble from the route, building track, and building stations.  There are points for most things, but one of the actions is to take contract cards which give players extra points for completing a set number of given tasks (e.g. laying three sections of track).

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ansi

There are a number of interesting aspects to the game.  Firstly, the weather.  Snowdonia is well known for its rain, fog and very occasional sun, and this has an effect on the rate players can perform tasks.  Secondly, the author, Tony Boydell, is known to dislike resource hoarding and has built in a mechanism to discourage it.  At the start of each round, resources are drawn from a bag and placed in the stockyard.  There are also a small number of white cubes in the bag – for each one that is drawn the game carries out an action.  Since resources are limited, if players hoard them, the chance of drawing white cubes increases and the game speeds up, perhaps unpredictably.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Britannia Bridge (or Pont Britannia in Welsh) is the bridge across the Menai Strait between the the mainland of Wales and the island of Anglesey and the scenario simulates building a railway from the mainland to Holyhead on Anglesey.  Thus, before players can build any track, they have to build the bridge.  Uncharacteristically the weather remained quite sunny, though as it was Anglesey rather than Snowdonia, perhaps that was to be expected.  This kept the dig rate up and the track-bed was cleared in record time.  However, although four white cubes came out in fairly quick succession, after that, they seemed to lurk in the corners of the bag, so much so that we checked they were there twice.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Black and Purple both built locomotives early giving them the distinct advantage of the optional temporary labourer.  Black used his to move his Surveyor collect contract cards and Blue decided to obstruct his plans by taking the some of the most lucrative (but most challenging) contracts.  Everyone else looked at the short track and some of the high scoring options and decided to go for points.  Blue, Green and Burgundy decided to wait until the maintenance was done before buying a train, but since the white cubes were so slow, by the time it happened they all decided the game was too far advanced for it to be worthwhile.

Snowdonia: Britannia Bridge
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor tonyboydell

Although Black got an early train (The Dawn Raider) and made good use of his extra worker, he was unable to used his special ability as it depended on white cubes being drawn.  Purple took the nine point train and also used the extra worker to move her surveyor.  Burgundy scored a massive number of points by building bits of stations and the game sort of stalled with one track left to build and nobody very keen to build it.  Green eventually got fed up and felt everyone else was picking up points faster than he was, so he decided to end the game.  Blue somehow managed to scrape it all together in the last round building the last siding she needed to fulfill her thirty-one point contract for four track sections and grabbed a six point contract which she had already fulfilled.  These, together with other bits and pieces this gave her a total of seventy-nine points, just two ahead of Black (who also completed three contracts) and someway clear of Burgundy who took third place with sixty-six points.

Snowdonia
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor winterplum

Although we enjoyed the variation and the Bridge undoubtedly changed the start, the different scenario didn’t change the game very much:  contract cards were still very powerful and ultimately made the difference though Burgundy did incredibly well just building stations.  In short, the weather and its effect on the “dig rate” together with the lack of white cubes made a much larger impact on the game than the Bridge.   And that can happen in any game of Snowdonia.

Snowdonia
– Image by BGG contributor aleacarv

Learning Outcome:  The weather has a big influence on building a railway, wherever you choose to build it.

28th July 2015

We started the evening splitting into three groups, the first of which played Machi Koro.  This was the “Feature Gamea couple of months back when it received a nomination for the coveted German Game of the Year, or Spiel des Jahres Award.  In essence, it is an engine building game with elements taken from The Settlers of Catan and Dominion.  Like Settlers, on their turn players first roll one or two dice, which yield resources, in this case money.  Players then use their money to buy cards like Dominion.  Each card is numbered and provides money, sometimes when the owner rolls, sometimes when someone else does, with the amount sometimes depending on the other cards a player has.

Machi Koro
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Players have five special buildings costing varying amounts and the winner is the first player to build all of them.  Red, Yellow, Orange and Cyan started setting up while people finished eating, but Red emigrated to play the hidden traitor game, Saboteur, with Teal and Violet when they arrived.  This is one of those little games that everyone always enjoys playing and plays lots of people well.  With only three players, it’s possible to have one bad dwarf, or none at all which makes everyone very twitchy, and as usual, accusations abounded.  After three rounds, Teal ran out the winner with five gold.

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

Machi Koro and Saboteur finished together to the two groups coalesced to play Colt Express.  This had been the “Feature Game”, last time, however, none of this group had been available to play.  Red was particularly keen to give it a go as it has a lot in common with one of her favourite games, Walk the Plank!.  This style of game is sometimes refereed to as a “programming game” because players play all the cards and only after everyone has played cards, do they get to action the cards.  The effect of this is semi-organised chaos as players try to make plans to take care of all eventualities, and then find that by the time they get round to carrying out the actions the situation has completely changed and is nothing like they would have predicted.  This time, Orange took the $1,000 for the sharpest shooter and Cyan took the strongbox.  Despite this, the best thief turned out to be Yellow who finished with $2,700 some way ahead of Cyan in second place.

Colt Express
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Meanwhile, everyone else had been playing the “Feature Game”, which was Last Will.  This is basically the boardgame equivalent of the 1985 film “Brewster’s Millions”.  The story goes that in his last will, a rich gentleman stated that all of his millions would go to the nephew who could enjoy money the most.  In order to find out who that would be, each player starts with a large amount of money, in this case £70, and whoever spends it first and declares bankruptcy is the rightful heir, and therefore the winner.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor PaulGrogan

The game is played over a maximum of seven rounds each comprising three phases.  First, starting with the start player, everyone chooses the characteristics of their turn for the coming round from a fixed list.  These include the number of cards they will get at the start of the round, the number of “Errand Boys” they will be able to place, the number of Actions they will get and where they will go in the turn order.  For example, a player may choose to go first when placing Errand Boys, but will then only get one card at the start of the round and crucially, only one Action.  On the other hand, a player may choose to sacrifice position in the turn order, draw no cards, only place one Errand Boy, but receive four Actions.  Since all but two cards are discarded at the end of the round and Actions must be used or lost, this decision is critical.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Next, in the revised turn order, players take it in turns to place one Errand Boy before placing their second if applicable.  Errand Boys are important as they allow players to control the cards they are drawing as well as manipulate the housing market and increase the space on their player board.  The heart of the game is the cards, however, which are played in three different ways:  as a one off (white bordered cards); on a player’s board (black bordered cards) or as a modifier (slate bordered cards) which enable players to spend more when black or white bordered cards.  Thus, White bordered cards are event cards which cost a combination of money and Actions to play, but once played, are discarded.  Black bordered cards cost at least one Action to play, but are kept and can be activated once in each round.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Black bordered cards come in three different types: “Expenses” which allow players to spend money; “Helpers” which additionally allow give players some sort of permanent bonus, and “Properties” which are by far the most complex cards in the game.  Properties are an excellent way of spending money as they are bought for a given amount and will either depreciate every round, or will require maintenance which can be expensive. Unfortunately, players cannot declare bankruptcy if they have property and must sell them.  This is where the property market comes in:  one of the possible errands is to adjust the property market, so if a property is bought when the market is high and sold when it is low, this is another possible avenue for losing money.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor bswihart

At the end of the round, everyone reduces their hand to just two cards and loses any left-over actions, which puts players under a lot of pressure as it makes it very hard to plan.  So the game is an unusual mixture of timing, building card combinations, strategy and tactics.  Only Blue had played it before and that was a long time ago, so it took a long time to explain the rules and make sure that everyone understood how the cards worked.  Even then, there were a lot of misunderstandings.  Burgundy had also read the rules quite carefully as well though and mostly managed to keep everyone on track.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor Toynan

Green (as the last person to the bar and therefore the last person to buy something) went first and started out with an “Old Friend” which gave him an extra action.  Burgundy went for a “lots and lots of cards which don’t cost an Action to activate” strategy while Black and Purple went into the properties market.  Meanwhile, Blue’s starting cards favoured buying farms, but by the end of the first round it was becoming clear that the cards she needed weren’t there and an Events strategy would probably be better.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Towards the end of the fourth round it was becoming obvious that Burgundy’s preparation (reading the rules) was paying dividends as he was systematically spending more than £12 per round – the amount needed to force an early finish to the game.  Blue on the other hand was trying to work out why her pile of poker chips didn’t seem to be decreasing.  By the end of the fifth round it was clear that Green was pressing Burgundy hard and there would only be one more round.  A quick bit of maths also suggested that there had been a “banking error”.  Although it would normally be in Blue’s favour, unfortunately, as this is game where players are trying to lose money, it didn’t help her.  Since she had been in charge of the poker chips though, it could only have been her own fault.

Poker Chips
– Image by boardGOATS

The game came to an end in round six when Green ran out of chips.  This left him with a final total of zero and everyone else trying to make the best of the final round.  Black and Purple tried selling off their properties and Blue held another couple of expensive parties, but it was Burgundy who spent £20 to finish the winner with £13 of debt.  As we put the game away, we agreed that it was quite an unusual game, though quite complicated, especially on the first play.  We also all felt that it was the sort of game that would benefit from the familiarity with the cards that comes from repeated plays, so it is quite likely that we’ll play it again soon.

Last Will
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor CellarDoor

With everyone else gone, there was just time for a few quick rounds of Love Letter.  This is a game we played a lot a year or so ago, but not so much recently.  The first of the so-called “micro games” it is played with just sixteen cards.  Each player starts with one card and on their turn, draws a second card and then plays one of them.  Each card has a value (one to eight) and an action (discard a card, swap cards with another player, compare cards, etc. etc.).  The object of the game is to have the highest card when the deck has been exhausted or, be the last person remaining, which ever is soonest.  For variety, we played with Green’s much loved, very battered, previously lost but recently re-found, home-made, “Hobbit” themed deck, complete with tiny gold rings.  So, the first problem was remembering what all the cards did and then trying to match them to the new characters…  With five, we played until the first player had two rings – everyone got one except Burgundy before Black won a second round and finished as the winner.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Spending money is not quite as easy as you think.

19th May 2015

With more new people, most of the regulars and a few less regulars, it was always going to be a busy evening.  So, as it was, we started out with three games.  The first group began with Eight-Minute Empire, a game that we’ve played before on a Tuesday, however, not with this group – only one person playing this time was familiar with it.  It is a quick little area control and set collecting game, though in truth, it only plays in eight minutes if everyone really knows what they are doing and nobody suffers from “Analysis Paralysis”.  On their turn, the active player starts by picking up a card:  they can choose whether to take the first available card which has no cost, or take another and pay the appropriate number of coins from their limited supply.  Each card is a resource which provides points at the end of the game, the number depending on how many of that resource the player has;  each card also has an action associated with it, which can be place armies on the map, move them about, ship them across the sea, build a city etc.  Players score points for having the majority in a countries and controlling the most countries in each continent, as well as for sets of resources.

Eight-Minute Empire
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor henk.rolleman

Cyan started heading over the seas, Yellow went in the other direction and Green ominously began amassing armies in the start region. Orange and White started with a mixture of expansion and growth.  As the game progressed, Cyan was spreading himself thinly over two continents while Orange headed north leaving the main continent behind and Yellow, White and Green fought over the regions in the middle.  White was also doing a fine trade in rubies while Cyan was collecting anvils.  This gave Cyan a dilemma when a double anvil turned up:  although he had the money to pay the two it would cost, he was playing a miserly game and decided to let it pass.  As it happened, it stayed on the table for nearly the full round until White swiped it from under Cyan’s nose.  Everyone saw the mass of Green in the middle, and, thinking he was an experienced player, decided to gang up on him.  With three players going after Green in the last round they did a good job of removing his dominance in the centre, leaving White the winner with eleven points, though the rubies really helped Yellow in second place just two points behind.

Eight-Minute Empire
– Image by BGG contributor lhapka

After a brief drinks break, the group then went on to play Salmon Run.  This was another game that we had played before, but was new to the majority of the players this time so it took a while to remember how it worked.  In essence, it is a race game that uses a hand-drafting mechanism, so players have their own personal draw piles a bit like Dominion.  The game is modular with a range of possible river sections.  This time the group opted for a short game with only four boards, which was enough to give everyone a flavour of the game, ready to give it a proper run through next time.  After a couple of rounds, everyone started to get the hang of it and salmon were zig-zagging their way up stream dodging bears, eagles and rapids, jumping waterfalls and trying to be the first to get to the spawning pool without being too tired.  Throughout the game the group remained uncertain of the the rules though, and at one point Green got himself blocked with no cards in his hand to help him.  After checking, he realised he could in fact play a card and do nothing (the fish banging its head against the wall). Unfortunately this meant he ended up way behind the others.  Before long, Cyan leapt the last waterfall and landed in the spawning pool with a splash.  It was a tight game with three other players teetering on the brink and ready to make the final jump, but in the end no-one else managed to get across leaving Cyan the clear winner.

Salmon Run
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The second group started out with a repeat of a quick game we played last time, called Yardmaster.  This little train themed card game is turning out to be surprisingly popular with our group, partly at least because it packs a surprising amount of punch for such a simple filler game that plays so quickly.  This time, it was just Burgundy turned the tables on Blue who failed to get the luck of the cards.  Then Purple and and Black turned up to join them for the the “Feature Game”, Machi Koro, which has just been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres.  This card game is a sort of cross between The Settlers of Catan and Dominion, where players take the role of mayor and roll dice and choose cards in order to make it the most successful town.  On their turn, the active player rolls the die (or dice if appropriate) and anyone who owns a card gets money in a similar way to the resource allocation in The Settlers of Catan.  Then, the active player can use their money to buy cards, building up their portfolio in a similar way to Dominion.  The winner is the first player to build all four of their land-mark buildings.

Machi Koro
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

There are two ways of setting up:  all the cards can be available in separate stacks at the start of the game, alternatively, the cards can be shuffled together and dealt out until there are ten different buildings available (others become available when a pile is exhausted).  The latter makes for a more strategic and interesting game, but when learning it is easier to see how the card combinations work by dealing out all the cards.  With so many people new to the game, all the cards were laid out at the start so everyone could see what their options were.  Blue was the only one who had played it before, so to off-set some of that advantage, she decided to try buying a building she had not bought before.  In her previous games, the Café (which rewards the owner with $2 from the active player when they roll a three) had been fairly ineffective, so she bought one.  Purple promptly rolled a three, and had to hand over some cash.  When this happened a second time, suddenly everyone started building Cafés and the gloves were off.

Machi Koro
– Image used with permission of BGG reviewer EndersGame

Blue built her Station first which allowed her to roll both dice and go for the higher number and value buildings and Purple and Burgundy were quick to follow.  Black was obviously not enjoying himself as much as the rest, and didn’t seem to be building much.  Eventually, he build a handful of Restaurants and Cafés, but otherwise just sat and accrued cash.  Blue and Purple had built their third landmark before Black had built one and it was looking like he wasn’t really focussing on the game at all.  Eventually, Blue built her Radio Tower winning the game.  Since there is nothing in the rules about what happens next, the rest of the group played on.  Burgundy managed to build his third and fourth landmarks in quick succession to take second place leaving Black and Purple to fight it out.  When Black suddenly completed his set (much to Purple’s disgust) his strategy became clear:  by building his most expensive landmarks first, he got a larger benefit from them, which enabled him to quickly complete the smaller ones.  Without two dice, his income was reduced, but since he had the majority of the red cards, he picked up money on when others rolled nines.  Although it hadn’t paid off this time, it looked like an interesting approach, though it was clear that Black was not terribly keen to play it again since, as he commented later, he is not keen on dice as a randomising factor, though he is quite happy to use cards.  Perhaps we’ll try a “dice deck” of cards next time and see if he likes it more…

Coloretto
– Image by BGG contributor SergioMR

Meanwhile, the third group had played an assortment of quicker games beginning with Coloretto.  This cute little set collecting game has been getting played a lot recently on Tuesdays, and, as Teal and Violet were new to the group, Red thought it would be a nice gentle game to start with.  Teal began by collecting a few choice colours, but quickly amassed a positive rainbow of chameleons.  Violet was much more selective and her favouritism for yellow chameleons proved to be particularly sensible in such a close fought game, and gave her clear victory over Red and Teal.  After briefly licking his wounds, Teal then regrouped and proceeded to thrash Red and Violet in a quick game of Dobble.

Dobble
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor msaari

Red had been enviously watching Blue and Burgundy playing Yardmaster across the room (which might explain her poor showing in Dobble).  So, as soon as they had finished, she decided to introduce Teal and Violet to it.  As the most experienced player, Red was in a good position to get revenge for getting beaten in Coloretto and her complete drubbing in Dobble.  The game was quite close, but a crucial coup of a green number one at the very last minute swept her sorting yard into play, making Red the clear winner.

Yardmaster
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor moonblogger

With one victory each, Red got out another of her favourite games, Walk the Plank!.  This is a very simple if silly game, with a lot of opportunity to attack the others playing.  One of the big successes in the group, it has really earned it’s keep as one of the few genuinely popular KickStarter games.  This time was no different to previous games and everyone engaged whole-heartedly in trying to force their opponents off the plank and into the murky depths of the ocean.  Since it had been one game all, this could be seen as the groups tie-breaker and it was Teal who’s pirates managed to resist the temptation to jump into the shark-infested water the longest giving him two wins to Red and Violet’s one.

Walk the Plank!
– Image by boardGOATS

With the second group still playing Machi Koro, Red Teal and Violet joined Cyan, Green and White for a quick game of Pick Picknic.  Like Walk the Plank!, Pick Picknic uses simultaneous card selection, but adds negotiation and a dash of chance and “double think”.  The idea is that there are six yards of different colours, if someone plays the only chicken card of a given colour, they get all the grain at that coloured farm.  If multiple players go for the same coloured yard, then players can either agree to share the corn in any way that is mutually acceptable or roll the die for all of it.  Foxes don’t eat corn, however, they only eat chickens, so if someone plays a fox card, they will eat any chicken cards of that colour.  The game was really close and much hilarity ensued when when Cyan and Green, fighting over a yard managed to roll a tie five times in a row.  In the final count, White finished the winner, just four corn ahead of Green and six clear of Violet.

Pick Picknic
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

With people beginning to head off and everyone else reluctant to make it a late night, the remaining players began to look for something short-ish and fun.  Purple suggested Plague & Pestilence again, but when that wasn’t greeted enthusiastically, she proposed 6 Nimmt! instead.  Having had an outing last time, as well as at the Didcot group a few days ago, it is starting to become a bit of a regular.  In this case however, it was clear that everyone had fond memories of Burgundy collecting handfuls of cards and wanted to see if he was going to do it again.  Sadly, that was clearly not his intent and he finished the first round with just eight, only one behind the leader, Green.  Green didn’t keep the lead for long though as he was repeatedly forced to pick up high scoring cards finishing with a nice round forty.  Purple improved on her relatively poor first round, but still had quite a few more than Burgundy, Black and Blue.  It was fitting perhaps then, that it was Burgundy who, despite having a terrible hand played a blinder to finish just one point ahead of Black and two ahead of Blue.

6 Nimmt
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  A long game can be very satisfying, but lots of little games can be lots of fun.

10th March 2015

Since Blue was late ordering her pizza we were late starting our first game.  It was a relatively quiet evening, but we began splitting into two groups, the first of which played the “Feature Game”, Dominion.  This is a card drafting game where the players are monarchs, ruling a small pleasant kingdom of rivers and evergreens trying to build a bigger and more pleasant kingdom, with more rivers and a wider variety of trees – a Dominion in fact.

Dominion
– Image by BGG contributor Filippos

Basically, each player starts with an identical, very small deck of cards from which they draw a hand of five.  On their turn, players do three things:  play an action card, buy cards, then discard any cards they have left and draw an new hand of five cards.  The aim of the game is to have the most points at the end.  Experience is clearly a big advantage, as the balance of the deck is critical to a player’s success.  It was no surprise, therefore, that Burgundy and Green were fighting it out for first place.  Green squeaked in ahead having picked up a lot of duchy cards in the last few rounds.

Dominion
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

Meanwhile, Purple and Black played Patchwork.  This is a cute little two-player game that was first played on a Tuesday in January.  The idea is that players compete to build the most aesthetic (and high-scoring) patchwork quilt, buying tetris-like patches with buttons.  The last time Black won, so Purple was hoping to redress the balance, but sadly, it was not to be.

Patchwork
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor greetingsfrombergen

Both games finished pretty much simultaneously, leaving us with the decision: play one six player game, or two three player games.  There was only one real six player option and that was Keyflower.  Green offered the decision to Grey who, much to Blue’s obvious delight, opted for the large group game.  We’ve played Keyflower an awful lot (especially considering it is one of the heavier games that we play), but only once with the full six players.  On that occasion, Blue had managed to squander a winning position when she misjudged Green’s strength – something she was determined not to do again.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

Winter tiles were handed out and Green announced that he was just going to play what came up rather than play to a strategy.  Everyone else said that that was what they always did because there was always someone else who broke any strategy they had.  And that is pretty much exactly what happened  to most players this time too.  Grey went for the Green Keyples in a big way and Black went for tiles.  Purple tried to control the game with the start meeple while Burgundy ended up with a glut of yellow Keyples so decided to try to do something useful with them by turning them into more Keyples.  Green meanwhile was struggling to do anything and Blue, who was the only person with any supply of iron, managed to pick up the Blacksmith to go with it and quietly began producing iron and moving it onto the Blacksmith tile.

Keyflower
– Image by boardGOATS

As we moved into winter, everyone was so mesmerised by Grey who managed to completely exhaust the supply of green Keyples and Burgundy who was amassing a huge number of points, that nobody spotted Blue and her Blacksmith or Black and his tile collecting.  Eventually, Burgundy stopped pulling Keyples out of the bag and we moved into scoring, and it turned out to be a surprisingly close game.  Blue’s iron meant she finished six points clear of Burgundy who took second place with Black and Grey close behind.

Keyflower
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor ilogico

Learning Outcome:  If you usually win, don’t be surprised if you lose when you change the way you play.

Boardgames in the News: 20 Years of Catan and El Grande

It seems to be the year for anniversaries: arguably 2015 celebrates significant anniversaries for two of the greatest games in boardgaming history.  We are not talking about Monopoly here (though there has been a lot written about the 80th anniversary of the brand).  The games in question were both released in Germany in 1995:  The Settlers of Catan and El Grande.   The first of these, Klaus Teuber’s The Settlers of Catan, is widely known amongst gamers and many non-gamers, and is often cited as being responsible for the “gaming revolution”.  The base game of “Settlers” (or “Die Siedler”) and its expansions have appeared in thirty languages and sold more than twenty-two million copies worldwide.  At Spielwarenmesse, The International Toy Fair at, Nürnberg, Kosmos and Mayfair unveiled a new look for the entire line of Catan games.

The Settlers of Catan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor kilroy_locke

The press release explains, “The new look will strengthen the Catan brand both domestically and internationally.  The new cover art utilized by all partners will provide a visual continuity throughout the world.  This new look is more vibrant and alluring with overall improved presentation and splendidly clean branding. The new packaging cries out… CATAN!”  It goes on to say, “As part of the growing expansion of the Catan® family of products, the base game will simply be called CATAN® in all countries and languages, along with a unification of the game’s graphic design in all territories and languages.”

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by BGG contributor herman_the_german

There are a couple of curious things about this, firstly, when Kosmos released the game twenty years ago, it was just going to be called “The Settlers” (or rather “Die Siedler” since it was released in German first).  That was until Blue Byte published a computer game by the same name, so Kosmos decided they wanted something more unique and identifiable and made up “Catan”.  Secondly, aside from the the editions released in English by Mayfair Games (who went its own way with original art and component design), the brand has already been “unified” in its look!

The Settlers of Catan
– Image by BGG contributor degamer

The second of the games mentioned above is El Grande, which was first published in Germany by Hans im Glück.   Like “Settlers” the year before (or “Catan” as we must now call it), in 1996, Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich’s El Grande was awarded both the Spiel des Jahres and the Deutscher Spiele Preis.  Although it is less widely known than its predecessor, El Grande is hugely respected by gamers often cited as “still the best area control game”.  It is so highly thought of that it continues to be higher on the BoardGameGeek ranking than The Settlers of Catan and many other well known and hugely popular games including Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic and Dominion.  These games are all continuously reprinted, but sadly, the nature of boardgames means that many good titles go out of print.  Unfortunately, El Grande is one such game; it had fallen out of favour with its publishers and has not been reprinted in English or German since the Decennial Edition, ten years ago.

El Grande
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor garyjames

There are a number of reasons why games like this go out of print.  Firstly, much as we hate to admit it, boardgaming is a niche market:  Hasbro recently proudly announced that Monopoly has sold 275 million copies over the eighty years, but compare this with the estimated 450 million Harry Potter books sold in a fraction of the time.  In turn, these make Catan’s 22 million copies look positively paltry by comparison and for games that fail to make the jump to the wider market, the first print run is often only a few thousand.  Whether or not one of these games gets a second print run depends on demand and sale-speed of the first impression, and ultimately, whether or not the publisher thinks it can secure a good return.  Factors that affect this, obviously include the mark-up and the Recommended Retail Price (or RRP, sometimes known as Manufacturer’s Recommended Sale Price or MRSP).  Games that have language dependent components usually suffer here.

El Grande
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor DrGrayrock

There are two main markets:  Germany and USA.  We in the UK benefit from the fact that the USA nominally speak the same language as us, but otherwise, the UK boardgame market is relatively small-fry.  Anyhow, for this reason, games are commonly released primarily in English and German, however, the margins are clearly much larger if the same game can be released to both markets with minimal reworking, and companies like Z-Man Games have made a name for themselves translating the best European games for the English market.  Other companies (e.g. Zoch, Queen and R&D Games) release games as “international” editions which include language independent components and rule booklets in multiple languages.

El Grande
– Image by BGG contributor Domostie

Obviously, it is much more difficult to release a multi-lingual edition if key components include significant text.  It is also much easier to translate a game if the only change needed is the box and the rules; El Grande clearly fell foul of this.  However, so did The Settlers of Catan, and that didn’t do so badly.  So there are obviously other factors, including game play, accessibility, approachability, appearance and marketing.  There is no question that the trading dynamic and controlled randomness in Catan are key parts of its success as they keep everyone involved between turns, but timeliness is probably the real key:  it was perhaps just the right time for a family game that felt a bit different.  So, by the time El Grande came along, well, everyone was playing Settlers, and as a result, El Grande didn’t make quite the same impact.

El Grande
– Image by BGG contributor Bernaar

That doesn’t mean it is less of a game though, so it is great news that Hans im Glück has recently announced the long-awaited return of El Grande, this time in the form of a Big Box with upgraded components.  The Big Box is a collection that, like the Decennial Edition ten years ago, will contain all the expansions that have been officially released over the years.  Z-Man Games has also confirmed that it will release a parallel Big Box in English; Dutch publisher 999 Games will be doing the same in Dutch and have also mentioned a “Jubileumuitbreiding”, or “anniversary extension”.  Clearly anniversaries are to be celebrated, especially if it means older, well-loved games become available once more.

Boardgames in the News: Are Games Getting Cheaper?

There have been a lot of good deals about recently.  First there was Black Friday.  This traditionally American festival of consumerism occurs on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and this year even affected some of the online Boardgame sellers in the UK – anyone for Grog Island at £15?  Then there were the Amazon “Lightening Deals”.  These are deals that are advertised in advance with a specific start time and a limited stock.  This year, we’ve had King of Tokyo and Dominion at £15 each.

The latest one beats all these though.  Thanks to a malfunction in the software used by third-party sellers to ensure their products are the cheapest on the market, prices were reduced to as little as 1p.  Reports suggest that one buyer bought ninety-five board games that should have cost £12.99 each for 99p each!  Ooops.

Amazon Glitch
– Image from theguardian.com