Tag Archives: Dominion

Deutscher Spiele Preis – 2018

This week the The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize list was announced with first prize going to Azul.  Typically the Deutsche Spiele Preis rewards a slightly heavier game than the the Spiel des Jahres awards, but for the first time since Dominion in 2009, one game took both awards.  This year we haven’t played many of the games on either list, but our first game of Azul was shortly after it’s release at Essen last year and our local groups have played the spots off it since.  So, it is no surprise to us that it has been recognised by both the Spiel des Jahres Jury and the voters from the industry’s stores, magazines, professionals and game clubs, as well as taking the French award at Cannes, the As d’Or and the Origins “Best Family Game of the Year”.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Other games that featured on the top ten list included the winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres award, Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg (currently only available in German) and one of the runners-up, Heaven & AleThe Mind, which received a nomination for the Spiel des Jahres Award, also featured in the top ten, as did the inevitable Pandemic Legacy: Season 2.  Other than Azul, the only game we’ve played is Altiplano, and that squeaked in at number ten, but Rajas of the Ganges and Clans of Caledonia may feature in the not too far distant future.  The Deutscher Spiele Preis for Best Children’s game went to Memoarrr!.  The prizes will be awarded at the International Spieltage, Essen.

Azul
– Image used with permission of
BGG contributor Vacabck

12th June 2018

The evening started with a couple of quick rounds of Love Letter, while Pine and Burgundy finished off their dinner.  This is the a quick “micro game” played from a deck with only sixteen cards.  Each player starts with just one card in hand drawing a second on their turn, choosing one to play.  The aim is to try to eliminate the other players from the game, with the last player the winner.  Red started the first round and immediately knocked out Burgundy by guessing his hand.  When Pine swapped his Countess card for the Princess though, he took the first round.  The second was also won by the Princess, but this time Red was the beneficiary, despite being side-tracked discussing work with Blue.

Love Letter
– Image by boardGOATS

With food essentially dealt with, it was time to discuss who was going to play the “Feature Game”.  This time it was Echidna Shuffle, a very simple pick-up and deliver game with a couple of clever little quirks and fantastic over-produced pieces.  This was a game Black and Purple played with Blue and Pink at UK Games Expo last week; they liked it so much they nearly came to blows over who was going to get a copy, and it sold out on Friday afternoon as well.  Everyone else had heard about it, and despite the fact that it played six, it was hugely over-subscribed, so Blue, Burgundy and Ivory took themselves off to choose something else to play.  For many, Echidna Shuffle looked like a game with hedgehogs—the wonderfully chunky and gorgeously styled models could be either.  As there are more hedgehogs than echidnas in the UK, that’s what everyone associated them with, so every time someone said “Hedgehogs” there was a chorus of “Echidnas!” in response.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea of the game is that each player has three tree-stumps on board, and three insects in-hand; players have to get all three of their insects to their tree-stumps by riding them on the backs of echidnas. Each echidna and each stump can carry just one insect, with stumps removed from the game once they are occupied.  The active player first rolls the dice, and then moves the echidnas.  There are a lot of echidnas and not a lot of free spaces, so players have to shuffle the echidnas round the board, first passing their insect pick-up point, then trying to move that echidna to a tree-stump. Someone commented that “Echidna Skiffle” might have been a better name, but Pine pointed out that while they might look like hedgehogs, none of them looked like Lonnie Donegan

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

The total number of spaces moved is dictated by roll of a die, and this is perhaps one of the cleverest parts of the game: players only roll the die on alternate turns with intermediate turns evaluated from the dice board giving a total over two turns of nine.  Thus, if someone rolls the maximum, a seven, the next turn they get just two.  Similarly, if they roll a small number, say a three, then they get a six on the next turn.  This clever trick means nobody gets screwed over by the dice, but there is still a nice, randomisation effect to the movement.  There are two sides to the board, the normal “Summer Leaf” side, and the manic “Winter Snowball Fight” side.  On this occasion, we played the “simple” board with a full complement of six players.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Red got one of her bugs home first and it remained that way for several turns, before everyone else caught up quickly, leaving only Green bugless.  Red and Magenta then led the way with their second insect before Green finally got one of his home.  There followed a steady levelling-up with each player getting their second insect home, while everyone took care to make sure that Red and Magenta were prevented from getting their third critter to it’s stump.  Meanwhile Green and Pine were really struggling a second bug home, eventually leaving Pine the only one with only a single safe insect.  By this time, the game had turned into a group calculated effort to stop each other from getting their third insect home.  Consequently, Pine was feeling very left out as his echidnas kept falling victim to everyone else’s attempts to stop the others.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Eventually, Pine joined the party, and everyone was struggling to get one final insect home and put everyone out of their pain.  A move by Purple appeared to leave the door open for Black to trundle his final echidna to his last stump in two moves, but for some reason he moved his echidna in the wrong direction on the first move, leaving it to do another loop before he could get it back, and that was the end of his chance.  The game continued for a while longer, like a never-ending six-player game of chess;  everyone circling each other, with their insects stuck in eternal echidna traffic jams until finally Pine broke through to an open leaf road, and an unstoppable position.  At least three other players were unable to get their insect to their own stump without playing “King Maker” for someone else, so Pine emerged the victor having spent so long stuck at the back of the field early on.

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

Discussing the game afterwards, we realised that with the “simple” board and six experienced gamers who thought perhaps a little too much about the game, it had ended up in an almost “Tic-Tac-Toe” impasse.  This had lengthened the game, making it take much, much longer than it should have done.  As a result, players vowed to use the more complex board “Snowball Fight” board and maybe look for other ways to prevent the stalemate, like using the “extra moves” variant, especially when playing with lots of people.  It would be well worth finding a way to make it play a little quicker as we all had fun with the game which had very nice pieces. A game we can all share with our non-gaming friends and families too, which gave it a big thumbs up from the group, most of whom don’t really care whether they are hedgehogs, echidnas, or even porcupines

Echidna Shuffle
– Image by boardGOATS

On the next table, Blue, Burgundy and Ivory, had eventually chosen to play Dice Forge, a game they had enjoyed once before but felt they had unfinished business with.  The game is a dice building game, with a similar feeling to deck building games like Dominion and bag building games like Orléans, or cup building games like Roll for the Galaxy.  In these games, the aim is to try to mitigate the effects of luck by stacking the deck, bag, cup to improve the odds; in the case of Dice Forge, it is the dice themselves that players are modifying.  Each player starts with two dice, similar to those in some of the Lego games, where the faces can be removed and changed.  Beyond this, the game is actually quite simple.  On the active player’s turn, everyone rolls both their dice and accumulates resources accordingly.  On their turn, the active player can then also spend their resources to either upgrade dice, or to move their pawn from their central “Starting Portals” to one of the “Islands” on the board and take a “Heroic Feat” card.  Dice upgrades and cards all have a cost, with the best having the highest costs.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

One of the key strategy elements is where to put dice upgrades, and how to improve the dice.  For example is it best to save up for the most expensive upgrades, or given the fact that the game only lasts ten rounds, is it better to upgrade dice at every possible opportunity?  Similarly, is it best to upgrade one dice preferentially, to try to ensure that something good will come out every time, or is it best to sprinkle good stuff on both dice and hope that the dice Gods will smile…  On the other hand, cards can be more effective, so it can be better to concentrate on getting them, but only if the means to buy them can be accumulated quickly and efficiently.  This time Blue decided to concentrate on building up one die and try to keep her points tally ticking over.  Burgundy tried a different approach and went for cards, but struggled to get the “Sun Shards” he needed to execute his plan.  Meanwhile, Ivory serenely surfed the resource roller-coaster, buying cards and upgrading his dice seemingly at will.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

The game came to a close with the tenth round, finishing just as the echidnas were finishing their elegant waltz.  Blue, who had been working up to a twenty-six point card had he plans quashed when Burgundy caused her to roll one of her dice and she ended up loosing six of her valuable Moon Shards.  This was all the more damaging as she had been waiting patiently for her turn with a full quota wasting any dice rolls that gave her more.  That meant that Ivory could take the last card on his turn, leaving Blue to try to find other ways of making points with her final turn.  And then it was just a case of quickly adding up the scores:  Blue had accrued more than twice as many points with her dice than Burgundy, who had in turn amassed a large pile of cards giving him more than twice as many points as Blue via that route.  It was Ivory though who was the clear winner, the same number of points from his dice as Blue, and almost the same number of points from his cards as Burgundy.

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

It wasn’t late, but with Green, Red and Magenta heading off for an early night, that left six to play something else.  Ivory had enjoyed his first and only game of Las Vegas so much that he was keen to give it another go and everyone else was happy to join him. It is a very simple game with players rolling their dice and assigning some of them to one of the six numbered casinos.  Once everyone has placed all their dice the player who placed the most dice on a casino takes the highest value currency card.  The really clever bit is that before any money is handed out, any “draws” are removed, which leads to a lot of table talk and “helpful suggestions”.  As usual, we added the Slot Machine (which is like a special seventh casino); some elements from the Boulevard expansion, including extra high value money cards and the large, double weight dice, and house ruled the game to three rounds.  Some people did well on the first round, some well on the second, some on the third, but once, again, it was Ivory who finished with $400,000, just a head of Blue and Purple, proving that last time wasn’t just beginner’s luck…

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Some dice games aren’t all about luck.

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

3rd October 2017

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

Happy 5th Birthday!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

– Image by boardGOATS

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

Happy 5th Birthday!
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mothertruckin

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

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

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

Saboteur
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor mikehulsebus

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

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

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

Dice Forge
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Time flies when you are playing boardgames!

19th September 2017

After more discussion that it really warranted, we started the evening with a quick game of Bokken Schieten (aka Ziegen Kriegen).  Given the choice of this, No Thanks! or 6 Nimmt!, Red chose “the Goat Game”, but was disappointed to find it wasn’t what she was expecting.  Bokken Schieten is a very simple trick-taking game based on Blackjack.  Players choose a card from their hand and play it face up in front of them – the person who plays the highest card takes the trick and with it all the cards played in the round.  The player who plays the lowest card draws a Goat Island card and places the goat-meeple on one end, choosing which end will start Goat Island and the value of the number to contribute to the limit.  The game continues with players playing cards and winning tricks, and the player who plays the lowest numbered card adding to Goat Island, choosing whether to add a large or small amount to the total.  At the end of the game players count the number of goat heads on their cards and the winner is the player with the highest total that does not exceed the limit given by the sum of the numbers on Goat Island.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine was the player who had most recently seen a goat, so he went first.  It quickly became apparent that several players were struggling:  Burgundy had all the low cards, while Magenta had only one card below twenty-four and consequently went bust quite quickly.  Blue also had few low cards, but was so paranoid about going bust she ended up winning no tricks at all.  Goat Island finished with a value of fifteen which immediately put two players out of the running and with Blue taking no tricks it was between Burgundy and Pine.  It turned out that having so many low value cards gave Burgundy the edge as he finished with eleven goat heads, four more than Pine.  It was about this point that Red pointed out that Green, Black and Purple were pariahs because they were the only ones who weren’t wearing blue.  Everyone looked a bit mystified until Red explained that she was celebrating Dublin beating Mayo in the final of the All Ireland Gaelic Football Chamionship, and Dublin played in blue.  Green and Purple quickly demonstrated they did have something blue on (socks and scarf respectively), which just left Black.  He looked shifty and commented that he was also wearing blue, but didn’t think anyone really wanted him to prove it…

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

The silliness continued as Pine commented that he’d received an email with the subject line, “Show us your knickers”.  Apparently this was something to do with recycling and they wanted new undies or “slightly used bras”.  Pine’s well-endowed colleague had commented that none of her bras were “slightly used” and Pine looked to the girls round the gaming table for opinions precipitating a discussion as to what constituted a “slightly used bra”.  With the nonsense continuing into the discussion of games, there were only two games people were keen to play.  Some of the group had played Roll for the Galaxy a few weeks earlier and felt it needed to be played more so everyone could get to grips with it better.  Green was particularly keen to give it another go, and Black and Purple were happy to join him, leaving place for one more.  Burgundy actively rejected it and Red was keen to play the “Feature Game”, Battle Kittens which left three people to sort themselves out.  In the end, we went with seating positions and Pine, although he was a little skeptical and hadn’t played it before, joined the Roll for the Galaxy group leaving Blue and Magenta play Battle Kittens with Red and Burgundy.

Battle Kittens
– Image by boardGOATS

Battle Kittens is a quick-playing card drafting game with a ninja-cat theme.  The idea is that each player is one of the Cat King’s Royal Cat Herders, who starts with seven cat cards, taking one passing the rest on.  As each player receives a new hand, they take another card and keep passing the ever-diminishing hands on until there are no cards left to circulate.  Once this drafting phase has been completed, players divide up their packs of kittens into three groups which will contest the three different battle arenas.  Each arena will be contested on the basis of one of the four traits:  cuteness, strength, wisdom, and agility.  The squads with the three highest point totals in a battlefield are awarded a number of fish tokens in accordance with that particular battlefield’s allotment for first, second and third place.  The key thing is that some kittens have special powers allowing players to pick up “King” cards or add points to other cat cards.  King cards are mostly good, but the King can be fickle sometimes takes out his ill-temper on an unsuspecting squad of kittens.  The game is played over three rounds and the winner is the player with the most fish at the end of the game.

Battle Kittens
– Image by boardGOATS

It took everyone a round to really appreciate what they were trying to do, but by the second round, the gloves were off and the ninja kittens were attacking with everything they had.  It was a hard fought close series of battles as the piles of fish gradually grew and grew.  With the game quickly all done bar the counting, which was very close, but Blue’s Brave Moggies took first place, two fish ahead of Burgundy in second place.  The other table were still underway, so with time for something else, there was another decision to be made.  With time now a factor, there were fewer options and it wasn’t long before a decision was made and players were getting out Sheep & Thief.

Bokken Schieten
– Image by boardGOATS

Sheep & Thief is a strange little “point salad” of a game.  Each player has a board divided into a four by four grid, and starts with their home card and two sheep in the top left hand corner.  Each round is played in two halves: first players draft cards then they play them, taking it turns to place one card per turn.  There are lots of different elements to the game: players are trying to connect their home card to the other three corners while trying to keep their sheep safe and trying to catch other players sheep with their fox, meanwhile, they are also attempting to navigate their black sheep to the bottom right corner of their board.  With points for sheep captured, sheep retained, long rivers, connecting the home card to the other corners of the board as well as for moving their black sheep as far from home as possible, it is hard to see who has the most points and get an idea of who is in the lead.  Blue and Burgundy had both played the game before and both said it was very hard to do everything.

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

Blue didn’t have many sheep and most of them got stolen by Burgundy and particularly Red who really engaged with the thief aspect of the game.  Meanwhile, Magenta didn’t quite follow the rules surrounding the rivers so we had to re-write things a bit to work round it.  Although Blue had almost no sheep and her black sheep got itself sent back to the start right at the end so scored nothing, Blue did manage to pick up lots of points for a long river and and connecting her home to the other corners, giving her a quite respectable score of twenty-eight.  In contrast, Burgundy hadn’t managed to build a route to any of the corners and only had a short river.  With all the sheep he had stolen and his travelling black sheep (who nearly made it all the way to the far corner), he also scored twenty-eight.  It was quite a surprise when Magenta, who had lots of sheep, but was a little low in the other areas, also scored exactly twenty-eight points.  With a three-way tie, it was with bated breath that everyone waited while Blue added up the scores, but sadly, Red had only managed twenty-three.  This seemed a little low to Red, however, and on the recount, it turned out she had, not twenty-eight, but thirty-three, making her the winner and the best sheep thief!

Sheep & Thief
– Image by boardGOATS

With Red and Magenta heading off and the other game still going on, there was just time for Blue and Burgundy to play something short.  It was hard to decide what, as Splendor was the obvious choice, but last time Blue and Burgundy had played, Blue had finally won after two years of trying and was reluctant to start another losing streak.  The game is a simple one of chip collecting and engine-building with a very loose gemstone theme. Basically, on their turn, players can take gemstone poker chips, or use chips to buy a card. Some cards have points on them and all can be used like the poker chips to buy cards (but without having to return them). The cards also give players access to “Noble tiles” which also give points. The winner is the player with the most points after someone reaches fifteen points.  This time, although Blue started well, Burgundy soon wore her down eventually finishing with seventeen points to Blue’s eleven by take two points and a Noble to end the game.

Splendor
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Meanwhile, on the next table a tight fought battle was underway in Roll for the Galaxy.  Black, Purple and Green had all played it before several times and relatively recently too, so it was only Pine who needed a detailed rules explanation.  In summary, players roll the dice in their cup in secret, behind their player screen. They then distribute the dice according to their symbols, matching them up to each of the five phases, Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship. Players then, still in secret, re-position one of their dice to use it to choose one action they would like to activate. Players can also put a die to one side for a turn to “Dictate” the symbol on another die, i.e. reassign it to a different phase. Once everyone has positioned all their dice, the player screens are removed and players simultaneously carry out the phases that have been chosen in order.  In general, if a phase is chosen by anyone, it will happen for everyone.  Thus, players can look at what others are doing and try to decide whether someone else will activate a particular phase and then they can activate another.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Each die is used to carry out an action once, so if a player has multiple dice assigned to the same phase, the action may be carried out several times. Any dice that were not used because the phase did not happen or because the player chose not to use them are returned to the players’ cups.  Dice that have been “spent” to carry out an action must be placed in the player’s “Citizenry” and must be transferred back into the player’s dice cup at a cost of $1, before they can be used again.  The aim of the game is to get points which come through Trading goods and Settling and Developing Worlds.  These actions have corresponding phases which players must choose during the game.  Worlds broadly come in two different types:  Production and Development.  Production Worlds come with extra dice in different colours and as the different colours have different distributions of symbols, they have different advantages and disadvantages.  The dice can be “spent” in exchange for victory points or money; all dice have the same value when used to get victory points, but different values when acquiring money.  Development Worlds do not provide dice, but instead give special powers and/or extra points at the end of the game.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Players draw World tiles from a bag during the Explore phase and one of the key parts of the game is controlling these piles and manipulating the worlds built in order to steer a particular strategy.  Another important part of the game is controlling which dice that go into the player’s cup.  In this sense, the game could be compared with deck building games like Dominion or bag-building games like Orléans, where players build the contents of their deck/bag in an effort to control luck.  Perhaps the most important part of the game is choosing which Worlds to build and trying to get a synergy between them.  This is quite hard to get to grips with on the first try as it’s not always easy to identify which Worlds are god ones to keep.  That said, players essentially draw one tile from the bag at a time, so the only decision to be made is which side to use.  On the other hand, one of the options is throwing tiles out, in which case, several tiles may be drawn from the bag simultaneously which is more powerful, but makes the decision much harder.  The game end is triggered when one player has built twelve worlds or the pile of victory point chips is consumed.  It is a game that takes a bit of getting used to and everyone usually struggles a bit at the start, which is what Black and Green were so keen to try it again quickly after they last played.  This time everyone seemed to build their strategies round slightly different approaches.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Green started with a green “Genes” World which is valuable when Trading, however, he was able to he was able to pair it with a Development world that gave him a Production bonus making it very lucrative.  With this and a couple of other Production Worlds he was able to engage in a lot of Shipping.  Black began with a red, Military die which has a distribution that encourages Settling and Developing.  It wasn’t until right at the end of the game though that he was able to Develop some of his most valuable Worlds.  Pine began quite tentatively as it was his first time, but quickly got the hang of Producing and Settling and managed to Develop Worlds that gave him bonuses which eased things along.  Purple, on the other hand,  struggled to get to grips with the game, largely thanks to the worlds she picked up at the start.  In the end, she just built as much as she could and triggered the end of the game when she built her twelfth world.  The others weren’t far behind her though and their better combination of Worlds gave them more points.  It was the victory points from Shipping that really made the difference however, but it was very close at the top with just two points in it.  Had Green ended the game a round earlier (as he’d had the chance to do) he might just have kept his nose in front.  As it was, allowing Black to Develop in the final round was a crucial error and gave him the victory by just two points.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

The evening was nearly over, but after a quick update on Richard Branson and Hurricane Irma, there was just time for a little bit more “Trash Talk” – quite literally as it happens, as the conversation moved onto the subject of “drive-through litter-bins” on motorways.  This is now apparently a thing, which led to a discussion with everyone expressing their disgust at the laziness of people who seem incapable of taking their littler home with them and recycling it.  It was in response to one such comment on this subject from Blue that Pine, much to everyone’s astonishment pronounced, “That is because you’re intelligent…”  And on that note, it was definitely time for home!

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Learning Outcome:  Black wears blue underwear and Pine thinks Blue is “intelligent” (well, sometimes).

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.