Tag Archives: Dominion

Boardgames in the News: The Great Escape?

Over the last decade, Asmodee has swallowed most of the big names in modern family board games, including the likes of Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, 7 Wonders, Dominion, Agricola, and Pandemic amongst others.  This has been through the relentless acquisition of the companies that produce these titles, in particular, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight Games, Z-man Games, Mayfair, Lookout Spiele, and Repos Production.  This monopolising of the market cannot be a good thing for gamers, indeed the effects are already being felt with the introduction of Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP) and now the loss of customer servicing for all Asmodee products.

HeidelBÄR Games Logo
– Image from twitter.com

There is perhaps a glimmer of hope, however.  Three years ago, the German publisher and distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag was acquired by Asmodee, with the publishing part splitting off to form the Asmodee Studio, HeidelBÄR Games.  Last year, however, ownership and with it the nucleus of the HeidelBÄR team, was transferred back to the previous manager, Heiko Eller-Bilz.  The resulting enterprise is much smaller than it was, but the most important asset, the people, are in a position to develop new titles.

Plaid Hat Games Logo
– Image from plaidhatgames.com

More recently, Plaid Hat Games have made a similar, slightly slower, journey.  Around five years ago, Plaid Hat Games was bought out by Canadian company F2Z Entertainment, then the parent company of Z-Man Games, Filosofia Éditions and Pretzel Games (now known as Asmodée Canada).  However, earlier this year it was announced that Plaid Hat Games had been reacquired by Colby Dauch, the original founder, albeit without the rights to some of their biggest products, including Dead of Winter, Aftermath, and Mice and Mystics, which remain with the Asmodee Group.  Plaid Hat Games retained the rights to Summoner Wars though, and are currently developing a new product, Forgotten Waters, which will be the first game released by Plaid Hat after their Great Escape.

Forgotten Waters
– Image from plaidhatgames.com

1st October 2019

It was a bitty start with lots of chit-chat and eating, including Blue’s fantastic pizza with mushrooms growing out of it. A little bit of singing to celebrate the fact it was the eve of our seventh birthday was immediately followed by special meeple cakes. Eventually, when everyone had finally finished sucking the icing off their wooden meeples, we finally settled down to the now traditional birthday “Feature Game”, Crappy Birthday.

Pizza
– Image by boardGOATS

Crappy Birthday is a very silly party game that most of the group would normally turn their noses up at, but love to play once a year. The idea is that each person has a hand of cards featuring silly things and chooses one to give to the active player as a birthday present. The Birthday Boy/Girl then chooses the best and worst gifts which score the giver a point. Players take it in turns to receive gifts and after everyone has had one go, the player with the most points is the winner. It is very simple, but the best part is really when the recipient has to sit and sort through all their gifts and justify their choices. It seems a really silly game, and indeed it is, but it encourages people to get to know each other a little better and in a different way too.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

This year, we discovered that Black would like a trip to the North Pole, Pine fancied two weeks in a swamp and Purple fancied a course on Mime Art.  In contrast, Burgundy was not keen on getting his earlobes stretched, Blue wasn’t keen on a GPS (with or without an annoying voice) and Lime eschewed some “garden manikins”.  Perhaps the most surprising thing we discovered was just how great Ivory would be as a day-time quiz host.  Amongst the fun, the scores were largely incidental, but everyone picked up just one or two points except for Purple who scored three points and Black who just pipped her to the post, with four points.

Crappy Birthday
– Image by boardGOATS

Since Blue and Ivory had both brought Roll for the Galaxy, it was clear that they were keen to give it a go and when Green said he’d play it, the only real question was which copy would get played. Since it can be quite a long game, Blue and Ivory got going quickly and left the others to sort themselves out. Although Ivory was keen to give the new Rivalry expansion a go, as it has been a while since we last played (and Green wasn’t totally familiar with it either), the trio decided to leave that for another day.  Although a lot of the group seem to get in a bit of a mess with Roll for the Galaxy, it is not actually a complicated game. It is a “pool building” game, similar to deck builders like Dominion or bag builders like Orléans or Altiplano, except with dice.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that at the start of the round, everyone simultaneously rolls all their dice in their cup and, depending on what faces are shown, secretly allocate the dice to the five possible phases of the game: Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce & Ship. One of the dice can be used to select which phase that player wants to “nominate”, i.e. guarantee will happen. Any die can be used for this, it does not have to match the chosen phase. Once everyone has assigned all their dice and chosen their phase to nominate, all dice are revealed and the active phases are revealed. The clever part is the element of double think that players have to use: a player can only nominate a single phase, so if they want to Produce and Ship they have to rely on someone else to nominate the other one. Guess right and both phases will happen, guess wrong and they will only get one of them, and if that relies on something else happening, they may find they end up doing neither.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, while there are a lot of other moving parts, fundamentally, a successful player must piggy-back on other players because it will give them more actions.  Dice that are used then go into the players’ Citizenries, and unused dice go back into the players’ cups. Dice are extracted from the Citizenries and returned to the cups on payment of $1 per die, once all the actions have been carried out. Thus, the player with the most appropriate dice can turn the handle on their engine most efficiently. The aim of the game is to finish with the most points, which are obtained from settling and developing worlds and shipping goods to give points.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

So, the first action is Explore, which is taking world tiles from a bag. These are double-sided with a development on one side and a production or settlement world on the other. They go into either the Development or Settlement piles so that dice are placed on top of these during the Develop and Settle phases: when the cost has been matched by the number of dice, the world is added to the player’s tableau and they can use whatever special power it provides. Some of the worlds are production worlds which typically provide more, exciting dice to add to the system.  In addition to extra, coloured dice, Production worlds also house dice played during the Produce phase. These can then be consumed for victory points or traded for cash, enabling more dice to be transferred from the player’s citizenry to their cup.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

The game ends at the end of the round when either, a player Settles/Develops their twelfth world or when the stock of victory point chips run out. The winner is the player with the highest score from their combined victory points and worlds. There are a couple of other minor rules (for example players can pay one die to effectively change the face of one other die), but essentially, that is all there is to it.  Players start with a double tile comprising a complimentary pair of settlement and development worlds and a start world, together with a couple of tiles to add to their Development/Settlement piles.  For the first game it is recommended that players choose the Development and World with the lowest cost to add to their piles, because that is easier to play.  For later games, however, players can choose, which gave Blue a really tough decision.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

In the end she decided to go for it, and chose to start with the “Galactic Federation”, “6+” development world in her building pile.  This would give her an extra one third of her development points at the end of the game, but more importantly two of the dice used for every development would bypass her citizenry, going straight into her cup.  Green started with no fewer than three of the red, “Military” dice, which coupled with his “Space Piracy” starting development, gave him really a good source of finance. He looked very unimpressed with this combination, but Ivory and Blue felt it was a really nice combination of starting tiles. Ivory’s start tiles were also nice, but didn’t have quite the same degree of complimentarity, but he did get a nice  purple, “Consumption” die.  The starting tiles are only the beginning though; the game is all about building an engine made up of dice, Production Worlds, and Developments and then using it efficiently.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

In the case of Blue, her starting tiles led her towards a Development strategy, so she spent a lot of the early part of the game Exploring to try to find nice Development tiles to enhance that approach.  Green and Ivory had a more conventional, “build the finances and the dice pool then Produce and Consume” strategy.  The problem with this was they both frequently wanted the same phases, but ended up with either both of them choosing to, say, Produce, or both choosing Ship, when what they both really wanted was to maximise their dice by Producing and then Shipping.  Blue, on the other hand, could mostly be fairly sure that neither Ivory or Green were going to what she wanted, so was able to focus on her own plan, and just piggy-back the actions of the others.  Although the game has a reputation of being slow (with our group at least), this time, the game got going quite quickly and it wasn’t long before Ivory started his Production engine, Shipping his produce for victory points.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

Green soon followed, while Blue kept building her Developments and occasionally taking advantage of the “Produce/Consume” strategies of the others to provide enough finance to move her dice out of her Citizenry.  Blue felt her game was really boring since all she did was Develop, but in the end, it was probably the fact that Blue was doing something different that was key.  Blue triggered the end of the game placing her twelfth Development/World tile, which gave her the most points from building, slightly more than Green.  Ivory Consumed the most victory points, with Green not far behind, and Blue not really troubling the scorer in that department.  It therefore all came down to bonuses from the “6+” Developments, which is where Blue made up for other deficiencies taking fifteen points giving her a total of fifty-seven points, five more than Green who was just a couple ahead of Ivory.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

It had been a lot of fun, and next time we’ll have to give one of the modules form the Rivalry expansion a try.  On the next table, their game was coming to an end too.  Having been abandoned to sort themselves out, someone mentioned Ticket to Ride, and with everyone having a good idea how to play, that turned out to be most popular. The game is very simple and everyone has played it, in most cases, quite a lot, so we often play with expansion maps.  This time, the Team Asia/Legendary Asia expansion was an option, but as we usually play with the Europe version of the game, the group decided to play with original USA map with the addition of the USA 1910 additional route cards.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
– Image by boardGOATS

The basics of the game is that players start with a handful of train pieces and place them on the board to connect cities, paying with cards.  Thus, on their turn a player can take two coloured train cards from the market (either the face up cards or blind from the deck) or play sets of cards of a single colour that matches both the number and colour of one of the tracks on the board.  Players score points for the number of trains they place, but also for tickets.  Players choose from a handful of these at the start of the game and can take more tickets on their turn instead of placing trains or taking train cards.  These are risky though, because although they are a source of points, any tickets that are not completed at the end of the game give negative points.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

The original version of Ticket to Ride (with the USA map) is much less forgiving than the Europe edition that we more usually play.  This is partly thanks to the layout of the tracks, but also due to the absence of Stations which can help alleviate some of the stress associated with failure to complete tickets.  With five, it was always going to be a really hard game and likely to end up with a bit of a train-wreck for someone, and so it turned out.  The eastern states were rough, really, really rough with Burgundy, Lime, Pine and Purple all fighting for routes in the same space.  As a result, Black benefited from mostly staying out of the scrap.

Ticket to Ride (USA)
– Image by boardGOATS

Pine, Lime and Purple managed to complete the most tickets, five each, but remarkable, all three were a long way behind Burgundy and Black who only completed three and four tickets respectively.  This was partly due to negative points, but was mostly caused by the fact that the longer tracks give disproportionately more points and Black for example was able to pick up two of the long tracks around Salt Lake City relatively unopposed as he was mostly alone working in the west.  Similarly, Burgundy did well in the north.  As a result, it all came down to the longest route bonus, ten points, but with Black and Burgundy both in the running it gave a twenty point swing to Burgundy giving him a total of one hundred and thirty-five points, nearly twenty more than Black in second place.

Ticket to Ride
– Image by boardGOATS

Ticket to Ride and Roll for the Galaxy finished simultaneously and only Green decided he needed an early night, leaving everyone else to play one of the group’s favourite game, Las Vegas.  This is a simple game of dice rolling and gambling, where players use their dice to bet in one of the six numbered casinos.  Each casino has one or more money cards and at the end of the round, the player with the most dice in that casino takes the highest value money card.  The player who comes second takes the next highest value card and so on.  When betting, players must place dice in one of the numbered casinos.  The first catch is that they must place all the dice they roll that depict that number in the matching casino.  The second catch is that any dice involved in a tie at the end of the round are removed, and it is this that makes it a great game.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

We have the original version of the game rather than the new edition, Las Vegas Royale, though we added elements from the Las Vegas Boulevard expansion, including the double weight “Big” dice and the Slot Machine.  We also house-rule to only play three rounds instead of the four in the rules as written.  This time, Ivory stole a march in the first round, when he was forced to place his last die as a losing singleton in “Casino Five”, only for Purple to roll a five with her final roll and take out both herself and the hitherto winner, Pine.  As a result Ivory took the jackpot of $90,000 to go with his other winnings.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

It is not a game to give up on though, as anything can happen.  The second round was relatively uneventful, but the deal for the final round left the last three casinos each with a single card of $100,000.  This is highly unusual, but we decided to play on and see what happened.  In the end, it had a bit of an “all or nothing” feel about it, with players going in early and in big.  It was probably no coincidence that the three big jackpots were taken by the three highest scoring players.  Pine thought he had come off worst, Black, who had done so well in the other two games took the wooden spoon.  It was Ivory’s flying start that was key though, and together with his strong finish, his total takings were a massive $430,000, $40,000 more than Blue in second.

Las Vegas
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning Outcome:  Party games can be great when everyone is in a party mood.

Deutscher Spiele Preis – 2019

With “Essen” approaching, last week the Deutscher Spiele Preis list was announced. This is the result of an open vote by games clubs, gamers and people in the industry.  It typically rewards a slightly heavier game than the the Spiel des Jahres awards, but as the top ten are published, a range of tastes and complexities usually feature.  Last year number one on the list was Azul, the first game to win both the Deutscher Spiele Preis and the Spiel des Jahres since Dominion in 2009.  This year, the winner of the Deutscher Spiele Preis is the same as the winner of the Kennerspiel des Jahres i.e. Wingspan (Flügelschlag in Germany).  This is a great card game with fantastic production values which is well deserving of the prize.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

Other games in the top ten list include third placed Teotihuacan: City of Gods which is emotionally the sequel to the well received Tzolk’in: They Mayan Calendar and the hugely popular fifth placed Architects of the West Kingdom, both very solid “Euro Games”.  The Taverns of Tiefenthal, Underwater Cities and Newton also medium-heavy weight Euro games made the top ten too, as did the Spiel des Jahres winner, the light family game, Just One. Some slightly more unusual games were also recognised, including Spirit Island, a complex cooperative game, and in particular, Detective, which is a real-time puzzle game with an internet component. The Deutscher Spiele Preis for Best Children’s game went to Concept Kids: Tiere (Animals).  The prizes will be awarded at the Internationale Spieltage, Essen.

Wingspan
– Image by boardGOATS

 

Playing with Money at The British Museum: Currency and Games

Following on from their visit to see the “Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered” exhibition at the V & A Museum of Childhood, under beautiful blue skies, Blue and Pink set out to Oxford Parkway once more, to visit The British Museum to see their “Playing with Money: Currency and Games” exhibition.  Entry to The British Museum is free, which is excellent value given the number of truly remarkable, internationally significant exhibits that are there, including the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles.

The British Museum
– Image by boardGOATS

Of more interest to gamers are a large number of pieces from the Lewis Chess Set, one of which was recently discovered in a drawer in a family home in Edinburgh.  These are actually a number of pieces from at least four sets and maybe more, but are iconic and were used as the basis of the design for the Chess set in the film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  In addition to the Lewis Chessmen, The British Museum also has a permanent display entitled, “Games: People and Pastimes”, which includes a Nigerian Chess Set, a Syrian Mancala board, and a selection of Iranian playing cards.

The British Museum Exhibits
– Image by boardGOATS

There is also currently a specific exhibition entitled “Playing with Money: Currency and Games”, which is available until the end of the month.  This is in a small, side-gallery and and really focussed on the development of money in board games, from it’s use in The Landlord’s Game and Monopoly, to more recent games like Speculation, Dominion and Black FridayThe Noble Game of Swan, Ratrace, and Magic: The Gathering also featured, though the gallery was quite small so there were not as many exhibits as there were at the Museum of Childhood, nor were they as varied.  One of the most interesting displays was perhaps some of the money cards from Alhambra with the actual coins that inspired the artwork on the cards.

The British Museum, "Playing with Money: Currency and Games"
– Image by boardGOATS

Given the other exhibits, The British Museum is well worth a visit although the “Playing with Money: Currency and Games” exhibition is only open till 29th September 2019.

The British Museum, "Playing with Money: Currency and Games"
– Image by boardGOATS

Deutscher Spiele Preis 2019 – Time to Vote

Like every other sphere, boardgames also receive awards, the best known of which is probably the Spiel des Jahres.  The Deutscher Spiele Preis, or German Game Prize, is slightly less well known, but arguably better reflects the slightly more advanced, “Gamers Games”.  There is usually quite a lot of overlap with the recommendations, nominees and winners of the Spiel des Jahres Awards, but the Deutscher Spiele Preis typically rewards a slightly heavier game, often more in line with Kennerspiel des Jahres category.  This is especially likely to be true this year as the family Spiel des Jahres award, or “Red Pöppel” nominees, are particularly light.  The most recent winners of the Deutscher Spiele Preis include, Azul, Terraforming Mars, Mombasa, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Russian Railroads and Terra Mystica, with only Azul, last year’s winner, featuring strongly in the Spiel des Jahres awards (the first game to win both awards since Dominion in 2009).

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
– Image by boardGOATS

Game weight is not the only difference between the two awards:  The Spiel des Jahres nominees and winners are selected by a committee with a clearly defined list of criteria, whereas the Deutscher Spiele Preis (which is awarded at the Internationale Spieltage, in Essen), is selected by a general vote which is open to anyone, players, journalists and dealers alike.  The incoming votes are evaluated by an independent institute and only votes with details of the full name and address are valid (any duplicates are removed).   All votes are treated the same with games placed first receiving five points, those placed second receiving four and so on.

Key Flow
– Image by boardGOATS

Only new games from the previous year are included in the ranking, so this year that’s games released since May 2018.  Thus anything new at Essen last year or the Spielwarenmesse (Nürnberg) this year, is eligible.  This includes Architects of the West Kingdom, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra (the sequel to last year’s winner Azul), Dice Settlers, Endeavor: Age of Sail, Everdell, Key Flow, Newton, Reykholt, Solenia, and Teotihuacan: City of Gods, as well all the nominees and recommendations for the Spiel des Jahres award, like L.A.M.A., Wingspan and Carpe Diem.

Deutscher Spielepreis 2019
– Image from spiel-messe.com

Voting is open until 31st July and there are hundreds of free games and tickets for the International Gamedays at Essen to win.  It’s not necessary to submit a full list, so why not take the opportunity to vote for your favourite release of the year?

Boardgames in the News: How to Spot Fake and Counterfeit Games

Over the last few months, there have been increasing numbers of reports of fake or counterfeit games.  The quality of these forgeries is extremely variable and a huge range of games appear to be affected, from popular gateway games like Ticket to Ride: Europe, 7 Wonders or Dominion to more complex games like Terraforming Mars.  Card games like Codenames might be thought of as an obvious target due to how simple they are to reproduce, however, one of the most affected games is Azul, and reports suggest that it is the cardboard components that are poor quality—the plastic tiles are indistinguishable from the genuine articles.

Codenames
– Image from czechgames.com

So, how does one spot a counterfeit board game?  The answer is basically the same as for anything else.  Firstly, look at the quality.  This is probably the strongest indicator and if the quality of the fake is particularly high the buyer might not mind so much, or even notice.  Things to look out for include:

Splendor
– Image from imgur.com by BGG contributor ceephour

Some counterfeits are very high quality however.  This can be due to the so-called third shift work“, where a game is made in a factory that is nominally closed overnight, but the workers gain access and create bootleg copies with stolen material or off-cuts. Some of these are very good, but in some cases they also use parts that failed the quality control tests.  In such cases, the seller maybe more of an indication.  If buying on ebay or Amazon market place, beware if the seller has a strange name, claims to be located in the UK but isn’t, and has a very long delivery time.  In such cases, the scam is often to get payment a long time in advance, so that by the time the item is delivered (if at all), they are long gone.

Terraforming Mars
– Image from imgur.com

Thirdly, don’t imagine that Amazon is safe either:  there are three types of transaction, “Shipped from and sold by third-party seller”, “Sold by third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon” and “Shipped and sold by Amazon”.  Amazon only “sells” authentic items, however due to “commingling“, their stock can become contaminated by fakes.  This is because when an item is sold by a third-party seller and fulfilled by Amazon, the third-party seller ships their item to Amazon who add it to their pile in their warehouse before they ship it on.  If the third-party is dodgy, the person buying from them may get lucky and get a copy from Amazon’s stock which means someone else will be unlucky…

Finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is—caveat emptor: Buyer Beware!

16th October 2018

Blue was late after an unscheduled nap, so Burgundy consumed the first half of his supper alone.  Blue was quickly followed by Ivory and Pine and then a new visitor, Navy.  With Cobalt last week (who was busy moving house this week so couldn’t come) that makes two new people in two weeks.  Navy is a more experienced gamer and is into slightly more confrontational games than those we normally play, but that’s good as it might encourage us to leave our comfort-zone of cuddly Euros set in medieval Germany.  As we were all introducing ourselves, Green, and then Black and Purple turned up and the discussion moved on to how we choose the “Feature Game” (Blue suggests something to Green who mostly replies that he’s never heard of it, but it sounds quite interesting…).  Recent discussions have centred round the new Key Flow (aka “Keyflower the card Game”) for the next meeting and maybe Imaginarium (or, “The One With The Elephant on the Front” as Navy referred to it).  With that, Green started getting out this week’s “Feature Game“, which was Greed, a card drafting game where players are crime lords trying to earn more money than anyone else through clever use of their cards.

Imaginarium
– Image by BGG contributor W Eric Martin

At it’s heart, Greed is a quite simple, card-drafting game with a healthy dose of “take that” and a gangster theme.  Players start with a hand of twelve cards and “draft” three cards  (i.e. choose a cards and pass the rest on, three times).  Players then simultaneously choose one card then together reveal this card and action it before the it is replaced with another drafted card.  A total of ten cards are played in this way per person before the players tally their holdings and the player with the highest value is the winner.  Obviously, the game is all about the cards and there are three types, Thugs, Holdings and Actions, but it is the combination of these that is critical.  Actions have a unique effect associated with them while Thugs and Holdings typically also have a cost or a condition associated with them (e.g. cash paid to the bank or a collection of symbols on cards held).  Holdings are the key however.  When a Holding is played a token is placed on that card for each symbol on it and an additional token for each symbol of that type already possessed. These tokens are worth $10,000 each at the end of the game which is added to the value of cash collected through card plays.

Greed
– Image from kickstarter.com

Although it was Green’s game he had only played it once and that was over a year ago, while Burgundy had read up on it.  Pine and Navy had joined them to make the foursome.  The game takes a few rounds to understand how it really works.  After that, it’s quite easy to play, but working out which card to take and which to play is much harder, as they all seem to be really good. Unfortunately Navy struggled a bit at the beginning and made mistakes in his first couple of plays as he either found he couldn’t actually play his chosen card and had to just ditch it, or wasn’t able to get the indicated bonus. However, as he had not accumulated any wealth early on, it also meant he didn’t lose any when Green played a couple of cards which meant everyone else lost dollars, which leveled the scores a little.  Burgundy’s preparation really helped when he played a Holding card and proceeded to place six tokens on it, so by the half way mark it was looking like a two horse race between Burgundy and Green with both Navy and Pine looking short on cards.

Greed
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor punkin312

Through the second half of the game, Pine really got the hang of it and started raking in the dollars and had quite a pile of cash. Green then played a Holding card which enabled him to add chits equaling the same number as the maximum on another players cards, which meant he was able to gain from Burgundy’s excellent earlier play.  In the final rounds, Green played another card which removed one of his holdings only to be able to play it again the following round with even more tokens than it had previously. There was a brief discussion as to whether he should get the usual amount for it as well as the removed ones and two extras, a decision that went in Green’s favour, but the real question was whether it would be enough to beat Burgundy.  In the end, it was close, but the answer was no and Green finished with $30,000 behind Burgundy’s winning total of $235,000.

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

Meanwhile, on the next table everyone was being indecisive, but in the end the decision was made in favour of Roll for the Galaxy.  This is a game that really fascinated the group for a while because somehow it behaves differently to everything else we play and we really struggled to get to grips with it.  At the time, we concluded that our struggles were probably because we weren’t playing it enough so effectively had to learn it afresh every time we played.  For this reason we went through a phase of playing it quite a bit, but that was some months ago now and it was definitely time for another outing.  In principle, it is not a difficult game and the core mechanism is similar to the so-called “deck builders” (like Dominion) or “bag builders” (like Orléans or Altiplano), except instead of building a deck of cards or a bag of action tokens, players are building their supply of dice.  In Roll for the Galaxy, each different die colour reflects the different distributions of the dice, so for example, white “Home” dice feature each of the symbols for Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship once and Explore twice.  On the other hand, the yellow “Alien Technology” dice have three faces that depict the asterisk (“Wild”) and one each of Develop, Settle and Produce.  Thus, where probability affects which cards or tokens are drawn in the other games, in Roll for the Galaxy, players have more control over which dice they are using, but chance affects how those dice roll.

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

In principle, Roll for the Galaxy is not a difficult game and the basic mechanism is similar to that in Dominion or Orléans/Altiplano, except instead of building a deck or a bag of action tokens, players are building their supply of dice.  Each different die colour reflects the different distributions of the dice, so for example, white “Home” dice feature each of the symbols for Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship once and Explore twice.  On the other hand, the yellow “Alien Technology” dice have three faces that depict the asterisk (“Wild”) and one each of Develop, Settle and Produce.  Thus, where probability affects which cards or tokens are drawn in the other games, in Roll for the Galaxy, players have more control over which dice they are using, but chance affects how those dice roll.  Although the dice are important, like Greed, the game is really all about the special powers the players’ tableau, in this case made up of World tiles rather than cards.  Ultimately the game is really a race to trigger the end of the game is when the victory point chip pool runs out or a player builds their twelfth World.

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

Game play is mostly simultaneous:  players roll their dice and  allocate them to their phase strip.  Each player can choose one phase that they guarantee will happen, so in a four player game there is a maximum of four phases per round and where players choose the same phase there will be fewer, sometimes even only one.  The phases are:  Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce & Ship which correspond to draw Worlds from a bag; “spend” dice to build development Worlds;  “spend” dice to build production Worlds; place dice on production Worlds, and move dice from production Worlds in exchange for either victory points or money (which in turn can be used to speed up recycling of dice).  While we were setting up Ivory regaled us with the first few pages of Julia Donaldson’s “The Gruffalo”.  We will miss him and his stories when he takes his paternity leave in the new year.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor The Innocent

Blue began with the poor starting combination of a level six development World and a level one settlement, or a a level one development World and a level six settlement so began by rectifying the problem by exploring.  The game rocked along at a merry lick, with Black and Purple building and Ivory thrilled that he finally managed to build his first ever “Alien Technology World”, a feat he quickly followed with his second. Blue was slower building, but had a few high value developments and made good use of these before she began collecting some victory points.  This started a sudden cascade of Black and Ivory collecting points as well.  As a result, everyone focused on the number of victory point chips as the end game trigger, so much so that nobody, spotted that Purple had built her twelfth World.  As the group was just about to start the next round and everyone likes seeing their plans fulfilled, they played on anyhow.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor dodecalouise

Although it was a very tight game and everyone added to their scores, the extra round probably didn’t make any difference to the final placings.  Black and Ivory took over twenty victory points in chips alone, but they were offset by Blue’s high value Worlds and bonus points which gave her fifty-six points, just three more than Black in second place.  Everyone enjoyed the game, but there was one non-game highlight: Green’s sad little face when he looked across and broke off from setting up Greed with the sad comment, “Oh, They’re playing Roll for the Galaxy…”  Well, as everyone had a good time and with players getting quicker at it, it’s less of a labour than it used to be, so it surely won’t be long before he gets a chance to play it again.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by BGG contributor haslo

Greed finished first and as it was still early there time for another game, but nobody wanted to have a late night so the group picked something shorter and settled on this year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Azul.  This was another game that was new to Navy, but it is very popular in the group and we’ve played it a lot.  Players are tiling a wall, taking tiles of one colour either from one of the factories (putting the rest in the central pool) or from the central pool.  Tiles are added to rows on the players’ boards and at the end of the round one tile from each full row is transferred to the players’ mosaics.  The aim is obviously to fill all the rows to transfer the maximum number of tiles, however, any excess tiles score negative points.

Azul
– Image used with permission of boardgamephotos

Navy quickly got the hang of this one and all the scores were close for a lot of the game, though it was noted how neat Green’s mosaic was looking as he managed to fill the first left hand vertical row and nearly completed the second as well before placing anywhere else.  Burgundy and Pine were both less tidy, but was still picking up extra points for connecting tiles when placing them. Although Navy’s board was a little more scattered, but that would help him to catch up later.  Everyone thought they were entering what would be the final final round with  three players with at least one row just one tile from completion, amazingly nobody completed them and everyone get one extra round.  This meant the group actually ran out of tiles to place on the central discs, triggering the end game in different way.  After this final round and final scoring, Pine finished on top of the podium, ahead of Burgundy in  second place with Navy in a very respectable third in a close game.

Azul
– Image by BGG Contributor styren

While Roll for the Galaxy was finished, there was a bit of chit-chat about strategy and it was clear that to do well at the game, you also need to keep a close eye on what everyone else is doing too. This can be tricky when you are struggling to work out what to do on your own board however.  Winning or losing though, Azul is a nice game that always delivers a challenge; it will be interesting to see how the new stand-alone version of the game, Stained Glass of Sintra compares and if it is as good or better than the original, or whether it “does a Queendomino or Tsuro of the Seas“.  No doubt we will find out in due course.  With that, those that wanted an early night headed for home, leaving Black, Purple, Burgundy and Blue with time for one last, shortish game.  Black suggested San Juan which had been played at the last Didcot Games Club meeting, and everyone else concurred.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

Essentially, San Juan is sometimes referred to as “Puerto Rico the Card Game”, but in truth they are very different games although the artwork and roll selection is similar.  In practice, it is actually a simpler version of the card version of Roll for the Galaxy, Race for the Galaxy.  The game uses the same multi-purpose card mechanism seen in games like Bohnanza, though in this case, cards can be buildings, goods, or money.  The idea is that players take it in turns to choose a “role” and then everyone carries out the action associated with that role, though person who chose it carries out with the “privilege”, a slight advantage.  The roles are Councillor; Prospector; Builder, Producer and Trader.  Players have a hand of cards and can use the Builder to build these cards to paying for them with other cards from their hand.  Hands are replenished directly using the Councillor or Prospector.  However, it is much more efficient to build an engine using production buildings.  These take cards from the deck and turns them into goods when a player chooses the Producer role; when the Trader role is chosen, these goods can be traded for cards according to the current value depicted on the tally stick.  The game end is triggered when someone builds their twelfth building.

San Juan
– Image by BGG contributor Aldaron

Black and Burgundy were quick out of the traps building their efficient production engine, with high value coffee and silver producers.  Purple started with “purple buildings” before also moving into sugar production and then Monuments.  Blue on the other hand started with a hand full of nice looking purple civic buildings that she didn’t want to part with and after three rounds hadn’t seen a production building, so decided to try something different and built a Tower (to increase her hand limit from seven to twelve) and started building.  Elsewhere on the table Burgundy was stealing a march on everyone else, adding a Well, Smithy, Aqueduct and Market Hall to his high value buildings.  When he added a Library which enabled him to use his privilege twice, he began turning over cards at a phenomenal rate and it looked like the writing was on the wall.  Everyone was keeping a careful eye on everyone else, trying to make sure they didn’t fall behind in the number of buildings they had, and before long, the game end was triggered and it was the final round then the scores were added up.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor EndersGame

After the scores had been added up, Black bemoaned the lack of the endgame scoring bonus cards that rewarded the production buildings and monuments that he had been collecting (Guild Hall and Triumphal Arch).  It was then that Blue explained that she had been stashing them under her Chapel as she had no use for them and didn’t want the others to have them.  It was possible that this tactic made the difference, as despite having only two production buildings, her City Hall and Chapel delivered a massive thirteen bonus points, just enough to offset the cheaper buildings she had been forced to build.  Remarkably, Blue finished with thirty-one points, four ahead of the “Production King” Burgundy.

San Juan
– Image used with permission of BGG contributor thatmadgirl

Learning Outcome:  Though difficult, it is important to keep a close eye on what everyone else is doing.

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 Internationale 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 Logo
– Image from
escapistmagazine.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 Logo
– Image from stickpng.com